Beyond the Duggars: Five things you can do to identify and prevent child-on child sexual abuse
By Joelle Casteix
Child-on-child sexual abuse—that is, unwanted and nonconsensual sexual contact delivered by implied or real force from one child onto another—is a real problem. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, approximately one-third of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by another child. Many of the perpetrators are victims of abuse themselves. Recent statistics put the number of child offenders who have been abused themselves at 40 to 80 percent. (link: http://www.victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/statistics-on-perpetrators-of-csa)
Sexual abuse is a crime of power. Had Josh Duggar wanted to experiment in an age-appropriate and healthy way, he would have made the effort to find a willing peer in his age group. Instead, his crimes were about power. Josh had real and implied power over his sisters and preyed on them while they slept.
Since Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, like many other parents of offenders, minimized and downplayed the severity of their son’s conduct, the adverse effects on Josh’s sisters were also downplayed. As in many cases of incest, the any trauma the girls suffered was swept under the rug. Even worse, the girls have to face their abuser every day and pretend like nothing happened.
Tragically, the Duggars are not unique. That needs to change.
So what do we do? How can parents, educators, and caregivers understand healthy sexual and social behavior in children and know when and how to intervene?
1) Understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy sexual behaviors in children. Children are biological creatures with genitalia and curiosity. As they grow, they will exhibit healthy and age-appropriate sexual behaviors. These behaviors never involve force, threats, or sexual acts. There are many resources on the Internet that outline what healthy sexual behaviors are by age and what behaviors can be considered “red flags.” If your child is the offender, get immediate help for both your child and the victim, even if that requires reporting.
2) Take a stand on bullying, even when the bullying is not sexualized. Bullying is abusive, which is why every state has enacted some kind of legislation to protect children in bullying situations. Put a stop to the problem as soon as it starts. If necessary, seek help from your child’s school and law enforcement. They are required by law to help you keep your child safe.
3) Take immediate action when there is child-on-child sexual abuse. If you see child-on-child sexual abuse, report it to law enforcement immediately. If you suspect child-on-child sexual abuse, contact law enforcement or ChildHelp, the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child. Trained crisis counselors will guide you through the reporting process. The justice system is kind and compassionate to victims of abuse and is growing in understanding of the dynamics of child offenders.
4) Watch for warning signs. Research and understand the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse. Talk to your children about their bodies and respecting body boundaries. Tell your child that no one has the right to touch them if they do not want to be touched. Tell them that no one should ever ask or force them to keep a secret, and that you will always help them and never shame them if they come to you for help.
5) Remove the stigma and shame from sexual abuse, and do not minimize the damage caused by child-on-child abuse.
A former journalist, educator, and public relations professional, Joelle Casteix has taken her own experience as a victim of child sex crimes and devoted her career to exposing abuse, advocating on behalf of survivors, and spreading abuse prevention strategies for parents and communities. She has presented to hundreds of audiences all over the world, including on the TEDx stage, on subjects such as abuse prevention, victim outreach, victims’ rights in the civil justice system, and parenting safer children. She is a regular speaker for the National Center for Victims of Crime, the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma and The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Casteix’s blog, TheWorthy Adversary, is one of the leading sources for information and commentary on child sexual abuse prevention and exposure. She graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and completed graduate work in education at the University of Colorado, Denver. A wanna-be ski bum, she lives in southern California with her husband and young son.
Her new book The Well-Armored Child: A Parents Guile to Preventing Sexual Abuse will be available on Amazon.com on September 15, 2015 as well as at other fine booksellers. To learn more visit: www.WellArmoredChild.com, or visit her on Facebook.