Will my abused nephew turn around and abuse his little brother?


Dear Stop It Now!

My nephew is 3 years old and was messed with by two little boys. After we found out what was happening, we took him away but he is still doing it to himself. I’m scared that he will end up doing it to his little brother.  I don't know how to help him please help.

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Dear Concerned Relative,

I'm so sorry that your nephew was "messed with". I am assuming that you are talking about sex abuse and that your nephew is victim of other children's sexually harmful behaviors. I am not completely sure what you are specifically talking about regarding his ongoing behaviors but again am assuming that there is a sexual component to them. Given these assumptions, I want to help you with both healthy sexual development information and a recommendation to work with a professional who is experienced in young children, as well as providing direction for general safety planning.

First I want you to know that there is absolutely no reason to assume that your nephew will become someone who abuses children.  Children's sexual behaviors are very different than adult's sexual behaviors, and they occur for different reasons (also refer to our FAQ: Are children who get sexually abused more likely to become sexually abusive as teens or adults?).  

I believe you do think that your nephew is engaging in these behaviors because they were done to him and that is very likely - he is continuing to practice things that he was "taught".  Parents and other caring adults can help young children learn new behaviors, and can set up safe boundaries and guidelines for children.

Healthy Sexual Development
One of the first steps to do this is to learn about healthy age-appropriate sexual development By understanding what behaviors are considered normal, it will help identify any concerning behaviors that need attention and redirecting.

Next, help your nephew when he is doing something that is unhealthy or even possibly risky by letting him know in a loving but very clear way that the behavior is not appropriate and offer other more appropriate behaviors. This is similar to teaching a child about other behaviors such as stealing and lying.First we have to educate, explain why the behavior is not ok and describe the consequences for the behavior. For example, if we have concerns that a child is masturbating in public, we would then say to this child that while it may feel good to touch his penis, this is a personal activity and is done in private in his bedroom or in the bathroom, and by himself. We remind him that only he can touch his penis in this way and that he cannot touch anyone’s else’s penis or vagina. Our tone is not punitive or threatening, but rather calm and clear.

Safety Planning
While there is a concern that he may be inappropriate with another child, supervision should be constant - to protect him and other children.  Rules such as always playing in eyesight of an adult and never in bedrooms or rooms with closed doors can be set up. Again, these are not rules to punish but are general safety rules that are appropriate for all families. Help him focus on safe, healthy and fun activities with his peers – again, keeping adults involved and observant.

If your nephew has been sexually inappropriate with his younger brother, the family should speak to a therapist experienced in working with young children. A therapist can help both teach this little boy safe and healthy behaviors, and support the parents as they learn how to help him. Our resource page, Youth's Sexual Behaviors can help guide them to treatment resources.

Again, I want to emphasize that your nephew can absolutely heal from this experience.  It is a very good sign that he told adults what was going on; this shows that he trusts the adults in his life and will go to them when he has a problem.  I hope this will be helpful and I am also attaching several links to safety planning and healthy sexual development information that I hope you and your nephew’s parents will find helpful.

Please do not hesitate to contact us back with further concerns or questions. 

Take care,
Stop It Now!


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Last edited on: July 1st, 2021