Sexual Abuse - Sibling, Peer or Cousin - Myths

Myth: If a child is sexually touching a sibling, peer or cousin, it is not sexual abuse.

Many parents/people believe most sexual activity with a sibling, peer or cousin is merely curiosity and not harmful.

A four-year old, whether a boy or girl, who touches a baby brother's penis, while anyone is changing his diaper is showing normal curiosity. However, it is imperative for the adult to gently explain to the sibling that the baby's penis is private and no one is allowed to touch anyone's private parts. You can explain that you need to clean the baby's penis with baby wipes or a wash cloth, which is different than touching it for another reason.

Fact: When a child is a target of sexual activity it is abuse because the child, who is the target, whether a younger or older sibling, cousin or peer experiences abuse, because the targeted child is induced (duped, coerced or tricked) into sexual activity with someone who is in a position of greater power, whether that power is derived through age, size status, or relationship. A child who cannot refuse, or who believes she/he cannot refuse, is a child, who has been sexually violated.

If you suspect or know there is sexual activity being acted on; you need to ask yourself:

Is this a brief display of curiosity? If it is not a brief display of curiosity, it is sexual abuse If you determine it is a brief display of curiosity--explain to both children about appropriate touch and boundaries.

If either child is displaying any of the following characteristics, you need to seek professional help:

Preschool Children:

o Rubbing genital area frequently with seeming intent versus casually touching the genital area.

o Asks questions about sex frequently--even after the question has been answered.

o Shows significant curiosity to watch other family members dressing, undressing, using the commode, or showering.

o Coerces a sibling, peer or cousin to play doctor.

o Pretends to have intercourse by lying on top of a sibling.

o Have a sudden fear of specific things, people, place (bathroom or the room where the abuse took place), etc.

o Act out inappropriate sexual activity or display unusual interest in sexual matters.

o Have temper tantrums, especially coinciding with interactions with visits to places or interaction with a sibling, peer or cousin.

o Display violent behavior such as: kicking, hitting, biting--survivors feel extreme frustration and anger.

o Have mood swings, hitting, withdrawal (abused children often feel alone and helpless and withdraw into a shell), culminating into depression.

o Bed wetting or soiling.

o Experience nightmares--monsters, being chased or bogey men), fear of going to bed or sleepwalking.

o Display physical symptoms of sexual abuse such as genital pain, itching, vaginal bleeding (bloodstains in panties or pajamas), discharge, redness in genital area, or bladder or kidney infections.

o Display unexplained aggressiveness or rebellion.

o Insert objects into genitals/rectum--act out sexual behavior on doll, toys or pets.

Elementary School-Age Children:

Elementary school-age children will display all of the above and:

o Complain about aches and pains, headaches and other psychosomatic ailments.

o Have unusual knowledge and interest in sex beyond developmental level.

o Display adult or sexualized behavior, (walking seductively, adult type flirting, acting and talking like an adult)

o A drop in grades

o Difficulty concentrating--Doctors might diagnoses ADHD or ADD


Teenagers will display all the above and:

o Depression.

o Inability to trust others.

o Act out self-destructive behaviors: alcohol and/or drug use, eating disorders.

o Bathe excessively

o Become excessively secretive

o Develop strategies for protection such as: layering clothes, wearing baggy or safety-pinning clothes or sleeping on the floor or in the closet, under the bed or blocking their door.

o Body piercing--navel, nose, lip, tongue, numerous ear piercing, tattoos.

o Act out pseudo maturity.

o Acquire sexually transmitted diseases.

o Dramatic increase in the frequency of masturbation or masturbation to the point of injury

o Act out promiscuously.

o Experience serious confusion regarding sexual identity.

o An aversion toward opposite sex.

o Sexual interest in children.

Because children often believe the sex offenders threats or feel shame and guilt, they fail to report episodes of sexual abuse. Parents need to be vigilant for signs and symptoms. Do not accept simple, reasonable explanations on these issues. These signs suggest there is something troubling your child, even if it is not sexual abuse. In any case, you need to determine the causes of the behavioral change. Any change in behavior that does not fit normal stages of development is cause for concern and needs to be investigated and resolved.

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