Should I worry about my son's claim that his older brother performed sexual acts on him?


Dear Stop It Now!,

On three occasions, my son has claimed that his older half-brother has performed sexual acts on him. The first was "putting his penis in my butt". Then he said "he put his hand on his penis." Tonight, he said he unzipped his brother's pants and then he simulated fellatio to show me what he did next. These all came after periods where the boys were alone together. My son quickly recants his stories when I continue to inquire. Should I be concerned or is this an extension of his imagination and general interest in body parts?

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Dear Concerned Parent,

When a child discloses that he has been touched sexually, it is important to believe what he says. A child, while often imaginative, cannot make up stories that include specific adult like sexual behaviors without having some exposure to the behaviors. Your son’s disclosure does indicate a warning sign that he is at risk for sexual abuse or is being sexually abused.

Do Children Recant Disclosures of Sexual Abuse?
It is common that a child will recant his story. When a child feels like the adult he loves and trusts could be becoming upset, worried, angry or even sad by the information he is sharing, he may try to back out of his story to protect the adult. Additionally, he could be afraid of getting in trouble or even of getting the person abusing him in trouble. I’d like to recommend that you read our information on when a child tells about sexual abuse from our Online Help Center.

Noting Warning Signs
I am also wondering if there have been any other warning signs that the older boy has shown indicating a risk to sexually offend other children. Perhaps sharing any other observation you or others have noted that indicate that there is a risk would help in your conversations. Both boys deserve to feel safe and supported. I would add that it would be important to explore the older boy’s possible exposure to these sexual behaviors and explore his risks for being abused as well.

Planning for Safety
You don’t mention your son’s half-brother’s age or whether there are other adults concerned, but it is important to make sure that all the adults who are responsible for the safety of these two boys be involved in discussions of safety and protective actions. If these conversations can focus on the need for helping both boys and keeping all children safe rather than creating a sense of blame, then all the adults involved may be able to work together to address both boy’s needs. 

It is very important that a safety plan be implemented to help protect both boys.  All adults involved should be aware of the safety plan and it should include strict supervision whenever the boys are together. They should never be left alone. In fact, while your family is deciding on how to proceed, I would recommend that your son’s brother be supervised in all his interactions with all children. Our prevention tool, Create your family safety plan will help you further design a safety plan for your family.

Professional Help and Filing a Report
The adults involved may want to explore seeking out professional counseling for the children. I do want to let you that a therapist may be required to make a report of child sexual abuse depending on the age of the older boy and your state’s mandates. When contacting a therapist, this could be a question asked in the intake process. 

Regardless, you may want to file a report as well. I recognize that this may sound like another difficult step but reporting often helps families get the supports they need and helps get the professional resources in place to help the children involved.  Additionally, your son’s disclosure could be reported by another adult and it would serve your family well to initiate both reporting and seeking treatment.

Please read our information on filing reports, and ChildHelp (1.800.422.4453) can further help you to find out where to file in your community. If you or other adults are interested in finding professional counseling, please refer to our specialized treatment resources, for both children who have been abused as well as for youth at risk to offend or who have offended. You can also talk with your pediatrician or insurance carrier for treatment referrals. 

I realize that this probably a lot of information that is very concerning. This is a very complex issue and please feel free to call us to have a more in-depth conversation. But you should know that your family can be just fine, and with prompt and compassionate responses, both boys can enjoy healthy and happy childhoods. 

Take care,
Stop It Now!


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Last edited on: November 7th, 2018