Is sexual touching in same age kids abuse?

Dear Stop It Now!
A 9 year old girl was kissed by same age neighbor boy. She was then told to turn around by the boy, who then removed his penis from his pants and pressed it to her behind. Her pants were on. Is this abuse?

Dear Concerned,
Children, particularly younger children, may engage in inappropriate interactions without understanding the hurtful impact it has on others. For this reason, it may be more helpful to talk about a child’s sexually “harmful” behavior rather than sexually “abusive” behavior.

Our guidebook, Do children sexually abuse other children? (available for free download) can help you further understand sexual behaviors between children. Please also see our FAQ: Can child sexual abuse also involve a child abusing another child?

If adults don’t intervene early and with support and protection in mind, then the sexual behaviors between children can run the risk of increasing in severity.  When children do engage in sexual behaviors, it is helpful to know what are considered Age-Appropriate Sexual Behavior, so that behaviors that may be harmful or unhealthy are easier to identify.

The behavior that you describe here could be within the realm of normal sexual experimentation; however there are several things that could influence the level of concern and type of response needed.  These questions may help determine next steps:

  • Did the girl object to the behavior? Did she feel forced or threatened?
  • Do either of the children have any history of ongoing similar behaviors?
  • How specifically did the children describe this behavior? Was more mature, adult-like language used?
  • How was this discovered?

If there have been ongoing concerns regarding sexualized behaviors with either of the children, then I would be more inclined to bring in a professional to help the children with their boundaries, healthy sexual development and with any other concerns raised. Additionally, a professional counselor can help determine whether this behavior needs to be reported.

If the sexual behavior was forced on another child - if there is a clear power dynamic being willfully imposed, then this behavior does require a response that may be more formal, such as reporting this behavior to child protection authorities as well as contacting a professional counselor experienced in children's sexual behaviors.

This situation does help illustrate to all involved adults the need for supervision. Now that the adults know that this type of behavior could happen between the children, the children should be playing only in common areas, within eyesight of adults.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: August 1st, 2012