In April, Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States, we will be featuring content from Dove’s Nest. For more resources – including a bulletin insert, PowerPoint slides and other educational tools – click here.
Two members of the Dove’s Nest Speaker’s Bureau attended the “Child-on-Child Abuse: Recognizing, Reporting, Preventing” conference, sponsored by the law office Gibbel Kraybill & Hess, on Oct. 5, 2017, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Linda Gehman Peachey shares her experiences here.
Linda Crockett, director of the Samaritan Safe Church Child Sexual Abuse Prevention program (www.samaritansafechurch.org), led a double workshop on “Children and Teens with Sexual Behavior Problems.” She highlighted the fact that 90 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by people the children know and trust; of these, 30–50 percent of perpetrators are under age 18. Crockett emphasized, however, that these youthful offenders are not mini-adults and should not be labeled predators. They engage in these behaviors for a variety of reasons and often respond well to treatment, especially if there is early intervention. They are known as children with sexual behavior problems (SBPs).
Crockett went on to stress that it is important to understand what is considered normal sexual behavior among children to be able to identify what is inappropriate, harmful, and abusive in home, school, and church settings. This can be quite uncomfortable, as many of us find it difficult to acknowledge that children are sexual beings; yet we need to be able to discuss this together if we want to avoid misperceptions and address problematic situations.
Using the traffic signal colors of green, yellow, and red, Crockett outlined behavior on a continuum, from what is considered normal behavior to problematic and abusive behaviors.
For children under 12:
For teenagers (ages 13–17):
In terms of how to respond when there is a situation of child-on-child abuse, it is important to care for the child who experienced the sexual contact and make sure they feel safe. While some children may appear to brush it off, it can be very helpful for them to process their feelings and questions with a licensed child therapist who has expertise in this area. Studies show that the impact of the trauma can be significant regardless of the age of the child’s offender.
For the child who initiated the problematic or abusive sexual contact, it is essential to have them evaluated by a child psychologist or psychiatrist who has experience working with children with SBPs. One of the goals of the assessment is to determine if the behavior is likely to be repeated and what types of intervention are needed.
If the evaluation determines that the behavior was likely a one-time event, with the child simply acting impulsively or failing to observe appropriate boundaries, then the therapist may recommend allowing the child to participate again in normal church programs. The pastor and parents can meet with the child to stress the importance of never repeating the offense, the harm it can cause to other children, and what will happen if they ever do it again.
If, on the other hand, the therapist finds that the child is likely to repeat the behavior, the therapist will need to make recommendations about if and how the child can participate in programs that involve other children.
In a congregation, for example, it may be necessary to draw up an agreement with the child and his/her parents outlining what activities the child will or will not be permitted to participate in. Parents may also need to draw up a family safety plan, which spells out clearly what the parents will do and what is expected from the child about how they will interact with their siblings and others.
Hopefully, with the right type of intervention, as well as the care and support of adult caregivers, problematic behavior can be stopped and children can learn healthy ways of interacting with others.
This piece originally appeared at dovesnest.net.
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