National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth Fact Sheet

National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth Fact Sheet

Sexual Development and Sexual Behavior Problems in Children Ages 2-12
This Fact Sheet provides basic information about sexual development and problematic sexual behavior in children ages 2-12. This information is important for parents and professionals who work with or provide services to children such as teachers, physicians, child welfare personnel, daycare providers, and mental health professionals. Understanding children’s typical sexual development, knowledge, and behavior is necessary to accurately identify sexual behavior problems in children. Guidelines to distinguish typical sexual behaviors from problematic sexual behaviors are described below.

Research on sexual behavior of children ages 2 to 12 has documented that:

  • sexual responses are present from birth; 1
  • a wide range of sexual behaviors for this age range are normal and non-problematic; 1, 2
  • increasing numbers of school age children are being identified with inappropriate or aggressive sexual behavior;3 it is not clear if this increase reflects an increase in the actual number of cases or an increase in identification and reporting;
  • several treatment interventions have been found to be effective in reducing problematic sexual behavior in children, such as cognitive behavioral group treatment;4, 5 and
  • sexual development and behavior are influenced by social, familial, and cultural factors, as well as genetics and biology.7

Typical sexual knowledge of children age 2 to 6 years old:

  • understand that boys and girls have different private parts;
  • know labels for sexual body parts, but use slang words such as weenie for penis; and
  • have limited information about pregnancy and childbirth.

Typical sexual knowledge of children ages 7 to 12 years old:

  •  learn the correct names for the genitals but use slang terms;
  •  have increased knowledge about masturbation, intercourse, and pregnancy; and
  •  understand the physical aspects of puberty by age 10.

Common vs. Infrequent Sexual Behaviors in Children

In the last decade, research has described typical sexual behaviors in boys and girls ages 2-12.2 The table below lists sexual behaviors that are commonly observed or reported by parents of pre-school and school age children.

COMMON SEXUAL BEHAVIORS
AGES 2-6

  • Do not have a strong sense of modesty, enjoys own nudity
  • Use elimination words with peers
  • May explore body differences between girls and boys
  • Curious about sexual and genital parts
  • Touch their private parts, even in public
  • Exhibit sex play with peers and siblings; playing “doctor”
  • Experience pleasure from touching their genitals

COMMON SEXUAL BEHAVIORS
AGES 7-12

Sexual play with children they know, such as playing “doctor”
Interested in sexual content in media (TV, movies, radio)
Touch own genitals at home, in private
Look at nude pictures
Interested in the opposite sex
Shy about undressing
Shy around strange men

Research has also described infrequent and uncommon sexual behaviors in boys and girls ages 2-12. 2

The table below lists sexual behaviors that are reported by parents of pre-school and school age children to be infrequent or highly unusual.

INFREQUENT SEXUAL BEHAVIORS AGES 2 – 12
Puts mouth on sex parts
Asks to engage in sex acts
Puts objects in rectum or vagina
Imitates intercourse
Masturbates with objects
Undresses other people
Touches others’ sex parts after being told not to
Asks to watch sexually explicit television
Touches adults’ sex parts
Makes sexual sounds

Sexual Play vs. Problematic Sexual Behavior

Professionals in the field have developed a continuum of sexual behaviors that range from common sexual play to problematic sexual behavior.10 These are described below.

Sexual play

  •  is exploratory and spontaneous;
  •  occurs intermittently and by mutual agreement;
  •  occurs with children of similar age, size, or developmental level, such as siblings, cousins, or peers;
  •  is not associated with high levels of fear, anger, or anxiety;
  • decreases when told by caregivers to stop; and
  • can be controlled by increased supervision.

Problematic sexual behavior

  •  is a frequent, repeated behavior, such as compulsive masturbation;
    • Example: A six-year-old repeatedly masturbates at school or in other public places.
  • occurs between children who do not know each other well;
    • Example: An eight-year-old girl shows her private parts to a new child during an after school program.
  • occurs with high frequency and interferes with normal childhood activities;
    • Example: A seven-year-old girl has been removed from the soccer team because she continues to touch other children’s private parts.
  • is between children of different ages, size, and development level;
    • Example: An eleven-year-old boy is “playing doctor” with a three-year-old girl.
  • is aggressive, forced, or coerced;
    • Example: A ten-year-old threatens his six-year-old cousin and makes him touch his penis.
  • does not decrease after the child is told to stop the behavior;
    • Example: A nine-year-old child continues to engage other children in mutual touching after being told the behavior is not allowed and having consequences, such as being grounded.
  • causes harm to the child or others.
    • Example: A child causes physical injury, such as bruising, redness, or abrasions on themselves or another child, or causes another child to be highly upset or fearful.9

Children With Sexual Behavior Problems

Children with sexual behavior problems (SBPs) are children 12 years and under who demonstrate developmentally inappropriate or aggressive sexual behavior. This definition includes self-focused sexual behavior, such as frequent public masturbation, and intrusive or aggressive sexual behavior towards others that may include coercion or force. Although the term “sexual” is used, the children’s intentions and motivations for these behaviors may be unrelated to sexual gratification.

Some children who have been sexually abused have inappropriate sexual behaviors and others have aggressive or highly problematic sexual behavior.8 However, it should be noted that the majority of children who have been sexually abused do not have subsequent inappropriate or aggressive sexual behaviors.

Although only a small number of children develop problematic sexual behavior, professionals and parents may have concerns about (1) whether the behavior is problematic, (2) whether a child should be referred for mental health services, and (3) when an incident should be reported to the proper authorities.

Suggestions for professionals and parents are listed below:

  •  Do not overreact as most sexual behaviors in children are within the typical or expected range.
  •  Inappropriate or problematic sexual behavior in children is not a clear indicator that a child has been sexually abused.
  •  Most children will stop the behavior if they are told the rules, mildly restricted, well supervised, and praised for appropriate behavior.
  •  If the sexual behavior is problematic as defined above, referral for mental health services is recommended.
  •  It is important to remember that children with problematic sexual behavior are significantly different from adolescent and adult sex offenders.
  •  A report to Child Protective Services (CPS) and/or law enforcement may be required by law for certain behaviors such as aggressive or forced sexual behavior.

Additional information about adolescent sex offenders and children with sexual behavior problems is available from the National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth, http://www.ncsby.org.

Reference:
1. Gordon, B. N., & Schroeder, C. S. (1995). Sexuality: A developmental approach to problems. New York: Plenum Press.
2. Friedrich, W. N., Grambsch, P., Broughton, D., Kuiper, J., & Beilke, R. L. (1991). Normative sexual behavior in children. Pediatrics, 88, 456-464.
3. Araji, S. K. (1997). Sexually aggressive children: Coming to understand them. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
4. Bonner, B. L., Walker, C. E., & Berliner, L. (1999). Children with sexual behavior problems: Assessment and treatment (Final Report, Grant No. 90-CA-1469). Washington, DC: Administration of Children, Youth, and Families, Department of Health and Human Services.
5. Pithers, W. D., Gray, A., Busconi, A., & Houchens, P. (1998). Children with sexual behavior problems: Identification of five distinct child type and related treatment considerations. Child Maltreatment, 3, 384-406.
6. DeLamater, J., & Friedrich, W. N. (2002). Human sexual development. The Journal of Sex Research, 39, 10-14.
7. Silovsky, J. F., & Bonner, B. L. (2003). Children with sexual behavior problems. In T.H. Ollendick, & C.S. Schroeder (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Clinical Child and Pediatric Psychology (pp.589-591). New York: Kluwer Press.
8. Kendall-Tackett, K. A., Williams, L. M., & Finkelhor, D. (1993). Impact of sexual abuse on children: A review and synthesis of recent empirical studies. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 164-180.
9. Hall, D. H., Matthews, F., Pearce, J., Sarlo-McGarvey, N., & Gavin, D. (1996). The development of sexual behavior problems in children and youth. Ontario, Canada: Central Toronto Youth Services.
10. Johnson, T. C. (1998). Understanding children’s sexual behaviors: What is natural and healthy. Order information http://www.TcavJohn.com.

The University of Oklahoma is an equal opportunity institution.

Opinions in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official positions or policies of the US. Department of Justice/Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

This Fact Sheet was prepared through the National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth at the Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and was authored by Jane F. Silovsky, PhD and Barbara L. Bonner, PhD. This project is funded by grant number 01-JR-BX-K002 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), US Department of Justice.

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Behind Closed Doors: Fear and intimidation tell the real truth about domestic violence

Behind Closed Doors
Fear and intimidation tell the real truth about domestic violence
By Judy Chaet
Sheila walked into my office; she was a bundle of nerves. She looked down at her hands, which were twisting a handkerchief round and round between her fingers. She had come back in to talk about her problem (she was having trouble sleeping and remembering things). The first thing she said was, “I’m not one of those battered women — he doesn’t hit me.”
Sheila and I met many times over the next six months. Her story came out in bits and pieces. It was true: he didn’t’ hit her, except for that one time — the time he broke her jaw, her cheekbone and her favorite mixing bowl (all over the kitchen). After that, he never hit her again. But there was the time he cut the cord to the telephone, and wouldn’t let her fix it — because she talked to her 85- year- old mother too much. There was the time he threatened to kill her twin sister, if she ever left him. There were the times he kept her awake all night, telling her what a lousy mother she was and that she couldn’t even keep the house clean. And then there was the time he hanged her dog in the garage, because she couldn’t make it stop sleeping on the sofa.
The thing about domestic violence is that it is insidious — it is, by definition, private and “behind closed doors.” The true depth and impact of the violence are almost impossible to quantify. Was Sheila a battered woman? YES. The number of hits, or who hit whom first, does not define abuse. It is, rather, a pattern of behavior. Was Sheila afraid of her husband? You bet.
The more telling point is who has the power — and who is afraid. One partner in a relationship may have been the one to “hit first,” this time. But what went on in the hours or days before that hit? Domestic violence goes far beyond the physical violence. It is also the coercion and threats, the sexual abuse, the intimidation, the isolation, the economic abuse, the use of the children as a threat (or to make her feel guilty). And, most often, it is the minimizing of that abuse – the denial and the blame.
The minimizing, denial and blame are all cruelly intentional acts designed to make the victim feel responsible for the abuse. Sheila believed that her actions were the cause of his violently abusive behavior.

We have all been taught from infancy that the well-being of homes, families and marriages is the responsibility of women. When there are problems in these arenas, we look to the women first: “Where was she while the children were doing that?”“Why does she stay?” These are the questions we are used to hearing, and asking. These are the questions that battered women ask themselves. And these questions are reinforced by everything that batterers tell their victims: If it’s her fault, then there must be something she can do to stop the abuse. But the truth is there is nothing she can do to stop the abuse:
it is the batterer’s intentional choice to batter.

DVIP: Behavioral Characteristics of a Domestic Violence Batterer

Behavioral Characteristics of a Domestic Violence Batterer

 

Batterers are found in all socioeconomic, educational, ethnic, racial, and age groups.

 

Batterers

  • Use psychological, verbal, and physical abuse, including sexual abuse.
  • Engage in excessive minimization and denial.

 

The batterer is characterized by:

  • Poor impulse control, limited tolerance for frustration, explosive temper – rage. Constantly demonstrating but often successfully masking anger.
  • Stress disorders and psychosomatic complaints; sophistication of symptoms and success at masking dysfunction vary with social and educational levels.
  • Emotional dependency – subject to secret depressions known only to family.
  • Limited capacity for delayed reinforcement – very “now” oriented.
  • Insatiable ego needs and qualities of childlike narcissism (not generally detectable to people outside family group).
  • Low self-esteem; perceives unachieved ideals and goals for self; disappointment in career, even if successful by others’ standards.
  • Qualities which suggest great potential for change and improvement; i.e., makes frequent “promises” for the future.
  • Perception of self as having poor social skills; describing relationship with mate as the closest he has ever known while remaining in contact with his family of origin.
  • Accusations against mate, jealousy, voicing great fear of abandonment or “being cheated on,” possessive, controlling, hovering behavior.
  • Fearfulness that partner and/or children will abandon; fear of being alone.
  • Containment of mate and employment of espionage tactics against her (checking mileage/times, errands); cleverness depends on level of sophistication.
  • Violating others’ personal boundaries; accepts no blame for failure (marital, familial, or occupational) or for violent acts.
  • Belief that forcible behavior aimed at securing the family nucleus is for the good of the family.
  • Absence of guilt on an emotional level even after intellectual recognition.
  • Generational history of abuse.
  • Frequently participating in pecking order battering.
  • Assaultive skills which improve with age and experience (increase in danger potential and lethality risks to family members over time).
  • Demanding and oftentimes assaultive role in sexual activities; sometimes punishes with abstinence; occasionally experiencing impotence.
  • Increasingly assaultive behavior when the mate is pregnant – pregnancy often marks the first assault.
  • Exerting control over mate by threatening homicide and/or suicide. Often attempts one or both when partners separate – known to complete either or both.
  • Frequently using children as “pawns” and exerting power and control through custody issues; may kidnap children or hold them hostage.

 

Profile of MALE Abuser

Abusers may have some or all of the following characteristics:

 

  • Excessively jealous
  • Isolates victim (she may rarely go anywhere alone; visitors rarely allowed)
  • Controls victim (makes all decisions; demands accounting of time & actions)
  • Denies beatings or minimizes severity
  • May be more violent when she is pregnant or soon after birth
  • Blames victim for his abusive behavior
  • Uses verbal abuse with physical abuse (insults, mind games, etc.)
  • If victim leaves, he does whatever it takes to get her back (apologizes, sends flowers, cries, begs forgiveness, begs her to come home, promises to get counseling)
  • When victim returns, promises are systematically broken
  • Jekyll and Hyde personality
  • From a dysfunctional family
  • Low/No self-esteem (builds himself up at victim’s expense)
  • Thinks he’s never wrong and never lies – knows everything and everyone
  • Believes myths about abuse
  • Strongly believes in traditional sex roles
  • Feels persecuted – maybe mentally ill
  • Treats victim like a servant/very demanding
  • Must always have his way
  • Reacts violently to criticism
  • Preaches his own religion
  • Is very creative, imaginative and artistic
  • Is capable of fooling untrained authorities (doctors, lawyers, judges)
  • Is in control of his abuse (can – and does – become suddenly civil if someone walks in on the abuse; will only injure to a certain point – that which will ensure compliance)

Profile of FEMALE Victim

Victims may have some or all of the following characteristics:

 

  • Socially isolated – lonely
  • Blames herself for the beatings
  • Accepts responsibility for her abuser’s behavior
  • Feels she has no power or control
  • Feels ambivalent or confused
  • Embarrassed to admit she is being abused or that she is in a violent, abusive relationship – denial
  • Low/No Self-esteem
  • Believes she cannot survive alone
  • Is highly stressed – terrified – fighting to stay alive
  • Exhibits stress-related physical ailments or problems
  • Believes myths about abuse
  • Denies her anger over the abuse – but explodes over minor irritations
  • Exhibits depression
  • Is fearful of many things, like making a mistake
  • Believes in traditional sex roles
  • Puts needs/feelings of others far above her own
  • Mood is determined by abuser’s disposition
  • Unable to make a decision without abuser’s approval
  • Believes that nothing can ever help her
  • Does what it takes to survive – lies, denies, defends abuser
  • Endures additional abuse to protect children
  • Prays silently

 

 

 

 

 

Why Women Stay: The Barriers to Leaving

Why Women Stay: The Barriers to Leaving

One of the most frustrating things for people outside a battering relationship is trying to understand why a woman doesn’t just leave. A letter to Dear Abby on the subject was signed “Tired of Voluntary Victims.”

The most important thing to keep in mind is that extreme emotional abuse is always present in domestic violence situations. On average, an abused woman will leave her partner 6-8 times. The reasons they return or stay in the relationship vary from case to case. Some of these include:
Situational Factors

  • Economic dependence. How can she support herself and the children?
  • Fear of greater physical danger to herself and her children if they try to leave.
  • Fear of being hunted down and suffering a worse beating than before.
  • Survival. Fear that her partner will follow her and kill her if she leaves, often based on real threats by her partner.
  • Fear of emotional damage to the children.
  • Fear of losing custody of the children, often based on her partner’s remarks.
  • Lack of alternative housing; she has nowhere else to go.
  • Lack of job skills; she might not be able to get a job.
  • Social isolation resulting in lack of support from family and friends.
  • Social isolation resulting in lack of information about her alternatives.
  • Lack of understanding from family, friends, police, ministers, etc.
  • Negative responses from community, police, courts, social workers, etc.
  • Fear of involvement in the court process; she may have had bad experiences before.
  • Fear of the unknown. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”
  • Fear and ambivalence over making formidable life changes.
  • “Acceptable violence”. The violence escalates slowly over time. Living with constant abuse numbs the victim so that she is unable to recognize that she is involved in a set pattern of abuse.
  • Ties to the community. The children would have to leave their school, she would have to leave all her friends and neighbors behind, etc. For some women it would be like being in the Witness Protection program–she could never have any contact with her old life.
  • Ties to her home and belongings.
  • Family pressure; because Mom always said, “I told you it wouldn’t work out.” or “You made your bed, now you sleep in it.”
  • Fear of her abuser doing something to get her (report her to welfare, call her workplace, etc.)
  • Unable to use resources because of how they are provided (language problems, disability, homophobia, etc.)
  • Time needed to plan and prepare to leave.

Emotional Factors

  • Insecurity about being alone, on her own; she’s afraid she can’t cope with home and children by herself.
  • Loyalty. “He’s sick; if he had a broken leg or cancer–I would stay. This is no different.”
  • Pity. He’s worse off than she is; she feels sorry for him.
  • Wanting to help. “If I stay I can help him get better.”
  • Fear that he will commit suicide if she leaves (often he’s told her this).
  • Denial. “It’s really not that bad. Other people have it worse.”
  • Love. Often, the abuser is quite loving and lovable when he is not being abusive.
  • Love, especially during the “honeymoon” stage; she remembers what he used to be like.
  • Guilt. She believes–and her partner and the other significant others are quick to agree–that their problems are her fault.
  • Shame and humiliation in front of the community. “I don’t want anyone else to know.”
  • Unfounded optimism that the abuser will change.
  • Unfounded optimism that things will get better, despite all evidence to the contrary.
  • Learned helplessness. Trying every possible method to change something in our environment, but with no success, so that we eventually expect to fail. Feeling helpless is a logical response to constant resistance to our efforts. This can be seen with prisoners of war, people taken hostage, people living in poverty who cannot get work, etc.
  • False hope. “He’s starting to do things I’ve been asking for.” (counseling, anger management, things she sees as a chance of improvement.)
  • Guilt. She believes that the violence is caused through some inadequacy of her own (she is often told this); feels as though she deserves it for failing.
  • Responsibility. She feels as though she only needs to meet some set of vague expectations in order to earn the abuser’s approval.
  • Insecurity over her potential independence and lack of emotional support.
  • Guilt about the failure of the marriage/relationship.
  • Demolished self-esteem. “I thought I was too (fat, stupid, ugly, whatever he’s been calling her) to leave.”
  • Lack of emotional support–she feels like she’s doing this on her own, and it’s just too much.
  • Simple exhaustion. She’s just too tired and worn out from the abuse to leave.

Personal Beliefs

  • Parenting, needing a partner for the kids. “A crazy father is better than none at all.”
  • Religious and extended family pressure to keep the family together no matter what.
  • Duty. “I swore to stay married till death do us part.”
  • Responsibility. It is up to her to work things out and save the relationship.
  • Belief in the American dream of growing up and living happily ever after.
  • Identity. Woman are raised to feel they need a partner–even an abusive one–in order to to be complete or accepted by society.
  • Belief that marriage is forever.
  • Belief that violence is the way all partners relate (often this woman has come from a violent childhood).
  • Religious and cultural beliefs.

Other Reasons Women Stay…

Isolation

  • Battered women usually have no job, few friends, and little support from family due to the batterer’s manipulative and abusive tactics.
  • The assailant’s inconsistent behavior represents an intermittent reinforcement and punishment schedule that is confusing to the battered woman and prolongs her commitment to the relationship.

Economics

 

  • Many abusers do not want their partners to work so that they will be dependent upon them and will not leave.
  • For women who are employed, it is common for an abusive man to sabotage her job by making sure she does not have transportation or by showing up and engaging in behavior that creates problems for her and her employer.
  • Many abused women feel they cannot leave because they are in severe financial debt. Often spending all disposable income, eliminating any savings balances. He may withhold his earnings, causing the abused woman to spend all of her salary on family necessities.

 

Social Attitudes and Family Pressures

 

  • Society generally blames women for abuse.
  • Courts and police do not take women seriously until it is too late.
  • The stigma of single parenting and financial implications are a greater burden for women. Single fathers are often viewed as exceptional whereas single mothers are viewed as failures.
  • Women will hide abuse so as not to disappoint extended family. Some women are encouraged to “try and make things work,” or “try not to do things to upset him.”

There is no excuse for domestic violence.