Over the past few years it has become clear that child-on-child sexual abuse is a major problem and widespread among children in our communities and foster care. More than a third of all sexual abuse of children is committed by someone under the age of 18. Many children, particularly younger children, may take part in inappropriate interactions without understanding how it might be hurtful to others. In response to this growing trend, and to augment existing practices related to sexually reactive children, leaders in Circuit 8 in 2008 created the Child-on-Child (COC) Sexual Abuse Prevention Task Force. In 2010, the DCF Suncoast region developed the second COC Task Force which also focuses on community prevention, training and intervention.
Child-on-child sexual abuse refers to a form of child sexual abuse in which a prepubescent child is sexually abused by one or more other children or adolescent youths, and in which no adult is directly involved. The term describes sexual activity between children that occurs without consent, without equality, or as a result of coercion. This includes when one of the children uses physical force, threats, trickery or emotional manipulation to elicit cooperation. Child-on-child sexual abuse is further differentiated from normative sexual play or anatomical curiosity and exploration (i.e. "playing doctor") because of overt and deliberate actions directed at sexual stimulation or orgasm. In many instances, the initiator exploits the other child's naïveté, and the victim is unaware of the nature of what is happening to them. When sexual abuse is perpetrated by one sibling upon another, it is known as "intersibling abuse".
In the etiology of child-on-child sexual abuse, young children who have not matured sexually are incapable of knowing about specific sex acts without an external source. Consequently, children who initiate or solicit overtly sexual acts with other children most often have been sexually victimized by an adult beforehand, or by another child who was in turn abused by an adult. More than half have been victimized by two or more perpetrators. In some instances, the perpetrating child was exposed to pornography or repeatedly witnessed sexual activity of adults at a very young age, as this also can be considered a form of child sexual abuse.
The incidence of child-on-child sexual abuse is not known with any certainty, similar to abuse by adults. It frequently goes unreported because it is not widely known of in the public, and often occurs outside of adults' supervision. Even if known by adults, it is sometimes dismissed as harmless by those who do not understand the implications. In particular, intersibling abuse is under-reported relative to the reporting rates for parent-child sexual abuse, and disclosure of the incest by the victim during childhood is rare.
Children who were sexually victimized by other minors, including inter-sibling abuse, show largely the same problems as children victimized by adults, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, suicide, eating disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, and difficulty trusting peers in the context of relationships. The victim often has distorted beliefs about what happened to them, sometimes even thinking they were the initiator or that they went through the act voluntarily. Major factors that affect the severity of symptoms include the use of force or coercion, the frequency of the abuse, and the invasiveness of the act. An increased risk of victimization later in life has also been reported.
Specialized treatment for both children and adolescents with sexual behavior problems has proven to be very effective. However, only professionals with specialized training should provide such services. Studies indicate that most children and adolescents who complete specialized treatment successfully are able to demonstrate healthy sexual behaviors and abstain from acting out sexually in the future.
The COC Task Force is a multidisciplinary group made up of a variety of agencies including local mental health providers, DCF, DJJ, Offices of the Juvenile State Attorney and Public Defender, Children's Legal Services, Child Advocacy Center, Guardian ad Litem, local Judges and Magistrates, school officials, Partnership for Strong Families and other child advocacy related programs. The COC Task Force has been effective in reducing the number of child-on-child sexual incidents in foster care and the general community. The Northeast and Suncoast Task Forces currently meet quarterly and offer training focused on sexual abuse issues related to children.
In May 2010 the COC Task Force was recognized as a Best Practice by the State of Florida Gabriel Myers Work Group on Child-on-Child Sexual Abuse. Among other programs such as the Sexual Abuse Intervention Network (SAIN) in Hillsboro County, the COC Task Force was also identified as a program which should be replicated throughout the State.
Develop a state-wide Child-on-Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Task Force as well Task Forces at the local/community levels.
Provide community trainings related to child-on-child sexual abuse and children with sexual behavior problems.
Organize "Emergency Placement Teams" to assist during emergency placement decisions for children in foster care who disrupt their placements due to high risk sexual behaviors as well as other high risk behaviors.
Develop core trainings related to the prevention and intervention of child-on-child sexual abuse cases for public schools. Also, identify a standard sexual education curriculum that can be used by all elementary schools.
Collaborate with the state to develop and institute certification requirements for DCF, foster care staff, mental health professionals and others who work directly with children with severe sexual abuse trauma and/or sexual behavior problems.
Review and make recommendations regarding laws and policy issues that affect children with sexual behavioral problems and/or who have been charged with sexual offenses.
Help develop and institute standard Safety Plans that can be used in a variety of settings (e.g.., schools, foster care, therapeutic group homes and foster care, etc.) related to children with sexual behavior problems and/or who are at high risk for acting out sexually.