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.
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.