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Kids Hurting Kids! 3 Ways Parents Can Reduce the Risk of Child-on-Child Harmful Sexual Behavior

Her name is Heidi and she’s a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) who noticed a troubling trend at her Kansas City hospital: the largest group of child sexual assault offenders were boys ages 11-15. And their sexual acts were not what you’d expect–they were fueled by watching porn. 

In fact, it was a massive case of sibling-on-sibling harmful sexual behavior (HSB) that inspired me to write my best-selling Good Pictures Bad Pictures book series.

This article covers:

  • the rise in child-on-child harmful sexual behavior,
  • how porn fuels child-on-child HSB,
  • 3 ways you can reduce the risk in your family, and
  • resources to help families in crisis.

Why are we talking about this sad and scary problem? 

Because porn is more harmful for kids than most parents realize. Yes, it can initiate a life-long porn addiction and failed marriages. But it can also fuel harmful sexual behavior in kids that can lead to years of heartache, trauma, criminal prosecution, sex offender registry, and financial ruin for families trying to pay for treatment. And even worse. We want to beg every parent out there to take this seriously for their kids’ sake. 

The rise in child-on-child harmful sexual behavior 

It’s hard to know how big this problem of child-on-child harmful sexual behavior is since so much of it goes unreported or untracked. 

Here’s what we know (for citations and many more studies, download this Research Summary from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation):

  • A report from the UK estimates that up to 65% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by other minors. 
  • A U.S. Department of Justice study from 2009 reported that juveniles account for more than one-third of those known to police to have committed sexual offenses against other minors. 
  • The state of Missouri started tracking and found eight times more incidents of child-on-child harmful sexual behavior than they expected (4800 instead of 600).
  • Comparing two consecutive 2-year periods (2013-2014 to 2016-2017), a BBC investigation in England and Wales found an astonishing 71% increase in reported sexual offenses committed by minors against other minors. 

Related: Sexual Assault Expert Warns of Heartbreaking Trend Among Children

Porn fuels child-on-child harmful sexual behavior

“Children simply do not just wake up one day and go touch another child sexually – it’s introduced, taught, learned and then explored. They are doing exactly what a child’s brain is set up to do--imitate.” -Robin Reber, Starguides Wilderness Therapy

Children who have acted out harmful sexual behaviors have most often been sexually abused at some point. In the past, these children had most often been abused by someone else before they harmed another child. Research and anecdotal evidence is showing a new perpetrator: porn.

Research that links porn to child-on-child HSB

  • A 3-year study showed that kids (ages 10-15) who had regularly consumed porn were nearly 6 times more likely to self-report sexually aggressive behavior. 
  • Another review of 57 studies from several countries including the U.S. “showed that early exposure to pornography predicted more permissive sexual attitudes, sexual harassment perpetration, a range of sexual behaviors in females, and sexual preoccupation and later sexual experimentation in males.”
  • A study from Sweden found that 70% of daily users of pornography reported that “pornography made them want to try out what they had seen compared with 42% in a reference group.” 
  • And then there’s this: “Frequent users of pornography viewed all forms of pornography more often, especially advanced or more deviant forms of pornography including violence and sexual abuse of children and animals.”
  • A qualitative study from Australia of children with HSB recommended addressing pornography as a prevention strategy. We couldn’t agree more!

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Stories show how porn fuels child-on-child HSB

Because of how pornography impacts the brain, it is a highly effective (and highly toxic) learning experience which has several negative consequences.

The worst is that it takes advantage of a child's natural imitative behavior. Children’s brains are wired to imitate what they see adults do. Knowing this, it’s not surprising that some children want to practice what they've seen in porn on other, more vulnerable children. 

Caitlin (not her real name) reached out to tell us her troubling story. She had been watching a 10-year-old boy for a single mom who needed child care during the summer.

For the first month or so, there were no problems. But then her 7-year-old daughter reported that the boy had lured her into the bathroom and then tried to perform sexual acts on her. She got away and told her mom.

When Caitlin called, the boy’s mom tearfully admitted that she’d found “pornography of every kind” on his iPad three weeks prior. Apparently, this 10 year-old-boy, who didn’t have a hands-on-perpetrator, had looked at pornography and then acted out sexually on another more vulnerable child. Porn was the perpetrator.

We at Defend Young Minds have been writing about this disturbing trend for years. And readers have been contacting us with their stories.

One woman, we’ll call her Ida, told us how she was introduced to porn at the age of 6 or 7 by an older neighbor girl. She ended up acting out sexually with her cousins. Her parents and therapist were baffled–she didn’t have a hands-on perpetrator. But they never asked about her exposure to porn so they missed the connection–porn was her perpetrator.  

This is not an isolated incident–we’ve had many write to us who had watched porn as kids and then acted out sexually on younger siblings, cousins or friends. Just like Ida, their perpetrator wasn’t an adult predator–their perpetrator was porn.

Speaking at a national symposium in Washington D.C. on child on child harmful sexual behavior, I pointed out the links between pornography and child-on-child HSB. Sadly, one of the largest groups at the symposium were members of the military who were tasked with countering the alarming amount of child-on-child HSB on U.S. military bases. 

Related: Sexual Assault Nurse Links Porn to Child-on-Child Abuse: Interview with National Expert Heidi Olson

3 Ways parents can reduce the risk of child-on-child harmful sexual behavior

Considering the evidence, this is our sobering advice for parents: Don’t just teach your kids to stay safe from sexual abuse, teach your kids not to sexually harm other kids. 

Here are 3 ways you can reduce the risk of this happening in your own family. All of these tips will keep your child safer from being sexually abused and from harming others.

  1. Teach children to reject pornography to reduce their risk of HSB: Explain what pornography is, why it’s harmful, and give them a plan for what to do when they see it. Hundreds of thousands of parents trust Good Pictures Bad Pictures to help them start those protective conversations. You can also download our free guide: How to Talk to Kids about Pornography: A Quick Start Guide. It includes stats, tips and our best advice.
  2. Be very clear on what is appropriate behavior and what is harmful behavior. To help you understand the boundaries, read Sexual Behavior in Children: What’s Normal? What’s Harmful?
  3. Teach your kids body safety rules. Download this guide for an easy 1-2-3 approach that works!

What about helping other kids?

Resources for families of juveniles with harmful sexual behavior

If a parent finds out that their child has acted out sexually on another child or sibling, what should they do?

The very first thing is to make a plan for keeping the victimized child safe. If a sibling is involved, they will need separate bedrooms immediately. Cameras and locks on doors may be necessary. Finding resources to help the child who has offended is also critical. 

We have a four-part series written by Robin Reber, a treatment expert. She gives excellent advice to help deal with discovery of the problem, getting legal counsel, finding treatment and getting funding for treatment. 

The truth is that depending on where you live, the laws and resources are very different. Here’s an article by a juvenile judge that will give you additional information.

The good news is that most children who offend on other children and receive treatment do not grow up to be pedophiles. That is, unless they continue looking at pornography and develop that type of sexual fetish. Most kids (97%) who get good treatment through a program like the one developed by the National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth do not reoffend.

Pornography fuels sexual exploitation

By now you can see that all forms of sexual exploitation are linked. Child-on-child HSB is fueled by pornography. Pornography is used to groom children for sexual abuse by adults. Pornography is made of child sexual abuse. Children who look at porn are more vulnerable to being trafficked. And the cycle goes on and on. 

My hope is that by working together, your child will be safer from any and all sexual exploitation.

Good Pictures Bad Pictures

Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids

"I really like the no-shame approach the author takes. It's so much more than just "don't watch or look at porn." It gave my children a real understanding about the brain and its natural response to pornography, how it can affect you if you look at it, and how to be prepared when you do come across it (since, let's face it... it's gonna happen at some point)." -Amazon Review by D.O.

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