Can a child be charged criminally for sexual behavior?

Children can be legally charged for criminal sexual conduct. The laws in each state vary, and depending on the severity of the activity, the behavior could fall under the legal definitions of abuse and a child could be charged. If you are uncertain about whether a child’s sexual behavior could be considered criminal, learn the statutes by consulting your Attorney General’s office or get a sex-specific evaluation from a specialist. If you are having difficulty setting or enforcing boundaries between children, you should seek specialized help. Intervening early is very important for the benefit of the sexually aggressive child – as the legal risk only increases as he/she gets older.

Children need help, not punishment, to learn how to control harmful sexual impulses

Once we suspect or know that a child has sexually interacted with another child, the most chilling fear is that there could be a legal consequence. The child needs understanding and the faith that others will step in to help them when they are feeling out of control. Adolescents especially need to feel that they have a trusted adult “in their court,” someone who cares enough to try to understand them and what they are struggling with.

Sexual interactions between very young children, in general, are not illegal

 Most young children will not be held legally accountable for harmful sexual behavior with other children, especially if it involves other children who are close in age – not more than 3 years apart. Of course the nature of the behavior and the age of the child initiating the behavior are taken into account when deciding whether or not any legal action at all can be considered.

Some US laws treat youth over 14 as adults

In some states youth are at an increased risk of being considered adults by the legal system, especially if they are over the age of 14. This can be scary for families who are trying to do the best thing for a kid who needs help, and it can make it even more tempting to keep silent. There are many families who struggle with the same painful dilemma. You are not alone.

These laws vary by state. To find the most up-to-date information you can contact your local district attorney’s office, the office of your state’s Attorney General or read the statutes on certain websites such as The National Center for Sexual Behavior of Youth.

Children need the chance to learn new and safer behavior

With active support and caring supervision of adults around him/her, a child or teen can gain an understanding about why they have been abusive. They can learn how to replace the old behavior with behavior that is safer for others and, just as importantly, help them to feel better about themselves.

Consider finding other families who are in similar situations. Read about how children have recovered and moved on to have healthy and safe relationships. And reach out to professionals who can assist you to access specialized evaluations or therapy and, if necessary, they can assist you to file reports. This way you can make it known to authorities that you acknowledge the problem and are willing and able to do what is required to secure the safety of the children in your care.


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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


Helpful Articles
Title:State Statutes
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Related Files:
Title:Age of Consent Laws
Abstract:Age of consent laws summarized and age of consent charts by state
Related Files:
Title:Contact Information for Attorney Generals in the U.S.A.
Abstract:Contact information for states
National Association of Attorneys General
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