There are many possibilities for what might cause inappropriate sexual behavior of a child to another. People are often surprised to learn that, in fact, over a third of all sexual abuse of children is committed by someone under the age of 18 who usually is a family member. Children may engage in sexually harmful interactions without knowing or understanding that they are being inappropriate, or that they are hurting another child.

When a child does act in sexually concerning ways towards another child it could be caused by a number of things. Some behaviors are impulsive and unplanned; others are carefully thought out or strategized. The specific circumstances and the individual children involved must be taken into consideration when trying to understand the causes of sexual abuse among children and youth.

The information below is adapted from Toni Cavanagh Johnson’s Helping Children with Sexual Behavior Problems © 2004 by Toni Cavanagh Johnson, Ph.D.

Reasons why a child’s sexual behavior moves beyond what is considered natural and healthy

When a child’s emotional and physical space is routinely violated, it may leave a feeling of distress related to sex which can then appear as sexual behaviors. In some children, the level of exposure to adult sexuality in our modern culture is so overwhelming that they are unable to make sense of it at their developmental stage. These children may engage in sexual behaviors to try to get rid of these feelings of confusion, tension and anxiety.

Below are some additional factors which may increase the likelihood that sexually concerning behaviors might emerge in a child.

Exposure to sexual information

Experiences of victimization

Sexually abusive experiences


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Helpful Organizations
Organization: National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth


FAQ’s and publications about youth with sexual behavior problems, offending youth, and healthy sexual development

Organization: The New England Adolescent Research Institute (NEARI)

Description: Education and treatment center offering a free catalog of publications for professionals and families addressing treatment and recovery for youth with sexual behavior problems

Helpful Articles
Title:Helping A Child Manage Sexual Behavior Problems(Green Doc --> Tool?)
Abstract:Information on care and supervision of children with sexual behavior problems
Stop It Now!
Related Files:
Title:Understanding Your Childs Sexual Behavior: Whats Natural and Healthy
Toni Cavanagh Johnson
Related Files:
Title:Helping Children with Sexual Behavior Problems and Understanding Children
Abstract:Moderately priced booklets available for purchase directly from this licensed clinical psychologist and lecturer specializing in child sexuality and sexual abuse (both victimization and perpetration).
Toni Cavanagh Johnson
Related Files:
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