Not all sexual abuse is between an adult and a minor—some sexual encounters are between minors. As a matter of fact, 42% of childhood sexual abuse is at the hands of another child1,2. Sexual acts between two minors are considered abusive if there is a power differential between the minors. Differences in power include age, size, emotional maturity, advanced sexual knowledge, as well as forcing, threatening, bribing, coercing, or insisting their behavior be kept secret.

Sexual behavior between two minors when coupled with any of these power differences, should be treated as if it were illegal—reporting to local law enforcement and child protective services, to investigate the details.

Not all sexual interactions between minors are abusive, some of them are a normal part of childhood exploration. It is important to be able to differentiate between what is normal sexual behavior between children and what is abusive so that you can respond appropriately.

According to Toni Cavanagh Johnson, it is considered normal and healthy when:

  • Sexual behavior is between children of similar ages
  • Sexual behavior is spontaneous
  • Sexual behavior is not intended to be secret or purposefully in private
  • Sexual behavior does not cause fear, shame, or guilt
  • The behavior stops when repeatedly corrected by an adult3


In cases that appear to be normal and healthy, you should intercede to stop the inappropriate behavior and clearly communicate the expected boundaries. If a child is unable to stop after being repeatedly corrected by an adult, child protective services should be notified so the child instigating the behavior can be properly evaluated and the family can get the help they need. 

 

  1. Cynthia Simpson, Rebecca K. Odor, and Saba Masho, Childhood Sexual Assault Victimization in Virginia (2004): 1.
  2. Howard N. Snyder, Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics, A NIBRS Statistical Report, National Center for Juvenile Justice (2000): 13, NCJ-182-990.
  3. Toni Cavanagh Johnson, Understanding Children's Sexual Behaviors - What's Natural and Healthy (San Diego: 2013), 51.  http://www.tcavjohn.com/products. php#Fundamentals.