Understanding Sexual Behavior in Kids

No, most children who have been sexually abused do NOT go on to sexually abuse children

Just as there is no such thing as a typical “sex offender,” there is no such thing as a typical “victim.” How children process the experience of having been sexually abused varies widely and depends on many things, including whether they receive protection, acknowledgement and the help they need to address the harm done to them.

Risk factors

At the same time, having been sexually abused as a child is a risk factor that increases the likelihood that someone will sexually abuse children. Risk factors are not the same as “causes.” For example, being over 40 is a risk factor for getting breast cancer but it doesn’t mean you will automatically get breast cancer. The reason why we focus on risk factors is so that we can increase protective factors (for example, regular mammograms for early detection).

Being believed and supported reduces risk

For children who have been abused, being believed and supported by significant people in their lives is one of the most important factors that contribute to their healthy and safe sexual behaviors as they grown into adulthood.  It is never too late for you or someone you know to get help for dealing with the impact of sexual abuse. It is never too late to offer support to someone who experienced sexual abuse as a child.

Exposure to violence can increase risk

Other factors can increase the risk that someone will sexually abuse children. For example, children who grow up in families where they are exposed to a great deal of violence or neglect are also at- risk to grow up to sexually abuse. Prevention of sexual abuse involves not just treating the child who was harmed but also addressing the family environment.

Protective factors

The majority of children who experience sexual abuse do not go on to sexually abuse others. It is important to be realistic about the fact that having been sexually abused is a risk factor.  However, we can add protective factors to support children and help them to have positive behaviors.

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Our Resources

Helpful Organizations
Organization: Child Welfare Information Gateway


National clearinghouse of publications and resources related to laws on child abuse and neglect including state-specific information regarding reporting laws and policies


Helpful Articles
Title:Helping Traumatized Children: A Brief Overview for Caregivers
Abstract:Advice and guidance about nurturing and responding to children who have experienced trauma by Bruce D Perry
Child Trauma Academy
Related Files:
Title:Protective Factors (to Increase the Health and Well-Being of Children and Families)
Abstract:List of factors that increase the safety and well-being of children and families
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Related Files:
Title:When a Child Tells About Sexual Abuse(Green Doc --> Tool?)
Abstract:Information on how to respond to a child who has been sexually abused (Green Doc --> Tool?)
Stop It Now!
Related Files:
Helpful Links