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Child Abuse

Curiousity or Sexual Abuse

10/11/2006

Question:

My cousin`s 13 year old son played truth or dare with his 7 year old sister, at the 7 year old`s insistance. The 7 year old dared the 13 year old to pull down his pants. He did and she touched his genitals. Then he dared her to do the same, she did and he touched her genitals. There was no "fondling" or penetration, just a one finger touch.

That evening, the 13 year old went to his mother in tears, admitting what he had done with his sister. He was very remorseful and frightened. When the 7 year old was asked privately, she admitted that it was her idea to play and to show their privates.

My cousin is beside herself. She wants to make sure this never happens again and would like to consult a psycologist, but is afraid her son will be reported to social services and removed from her home. To be fair to the boy, he is not yet in puberty and is very young for his age whereas the girl is very advanced for hers. In addition, it seems the girl is in the position of power as far as the siblings are concerned as she often bosses her brother around and cries if she does not get her way.

I am not trying to "blame the victim", just trying to give you background on the family dynamics. Is this abuse or simple curiousity. Should the family seek psychiatric help? If not, is there a way for them to impress upon the children that this is innapropriate behavior. It has only happened the one time and they want to make sure it stays that way. Thank you.

Answer:

Your story is indicative of the difficulty we have defining what constitutes normal sexual play or exploration from sexual exploitation or abuse. It is not uncommon for young children of similar ages to compare body parts and have curiosity about the differences between the sexes. The age difference between these two, a 7 year old and a 13 year old, is a little concerning. One expects a teenager to know what types of touching are appropriate and which ones are not.

If he is developmentally normal, he may have acted improperly. At the least, it would probably be appropriate to have a professional talk with him so that he clearly understands how to conduct himself with younger children. However, from your description of the story, it does not seem likely that he acted aggressively towards her nor that he initiated the activity.

Therapy is often beneficial for children who are victims of sexual abuse.

We cannot decide if your cousin's daughter or son would benefit from any therapy. The decision to seek counseling for the children should be based on what is in their best interest and not on what may or may not happen legally. This decision should be made in conjunction with the children's health care provider.

Both children should be taught about appropriate touching and about genital privacy. Young children are often taught about this subject through "good touch and bad touch" curriculums. They both should also understand that it is important to tell an adult if they are exposed to inappropriate sexual contact.

As for a case being reported to children services, the need to report is based on the ages of participants, any history of force, type of sexual behavior, or any misuse of authority. If the story you report is accurate, I do not believe that the case needs to be reported or that fear of having one of the children removed is very likely.

Megan McGraw, MD Child Abuse Fellow
Robert Shapiro, MD

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Response by:

Robert Shapiro, MD
Professor of Clinical Pediatrics
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati