Sexual Encounters with Older
Children, Adolescents, and Adults
In the process of growing up, it is almost inevitable that a child will have
one or more encounters of a sexual nature in which the other party is either too
young or too old to be regarded as a peer. Most of these encounters are
accidental and incidental in the life of the child. Gagnon (1965), in
reanalyzing Kinsey data on encounters of females who as girls had had encounters
with an adult male, found that the first and largest group was composed of
persons reporting single events of a clearly accidental nature usually with a
complete stranger. A second group of accidental cases consisted of those who
reported multiple accidental contacts, but with different men, in different
circumstances, and with the events fairly widely separated over time.
There are many cases of someone exposing himself or herself to a child,
encounters wherein the one who initiates the exposing is an older child, a
preadolescent, or an adolescent. There are more occasions of this type of sexual
encounter than there are encounters involving children and adults. For example,
the ages of the female partners of the preadolescent boys who participated in
sexual encounters in the Ramsey (1943) study were in 80 percent of the cases
within one year of the same age as that of the boy; in 11 percent of the cases
the girls were two or more years older; and for the remaining 9 percent the
partners were two or more years younger. The girls involved were usually
neighborhood friends, female relatives, girls met during family visits, females
of the same family, and occasionally an older girl or woman. Since the
preadolescent or adolescent who initiates a sexual encounter with a child is
usually known by the child and by the child's parents, he or she dare not be too
aggressive and often feels the need to be devious because of the danger of being
detected, embarrassed, and perhaps punished. Sometimes the child exposes herself
or himself at the instigation of the older person.
The very first sexually related experience I remember was with another girl.
When I was four or five, this older neighbor girl once enticed me with an offer
of money to remove my panties and pull up my skirt in her presence. This
experience was purely exhibitory, as there was no bodily contact between us. The
inquisitiveness on her part helped to strengthen an already growing feeling in
me that the genital area was "special" in some way and should not be
shown to others since she felt it necessary to get my consent. However, at this
age, it did not seem inappropriate to me that another girl would be interested
in my genitals.
This happened when I was about ten. Two sisters who lived next door and I [a
boy] used to play in my playhouse. We'd sit and tell spook stories. One day the
older sister, who was probably fifteen, made a bargain with me. She would show
various parts of her body if I would show mine. I agreed. She then exposed her
breasts. But when it was my turn I became too embarrassed to show a girl my
penis and ran away. From then on both girls refused to play with me.
When I was seven years old my parents asked a thirteen-year-old boy to come
and "sit" with me while they went out. I went to bed. He got on top of
the covers next to me. After trying to sleep I turned around to tell him to quit
squirming because I couldn't sleep, when I noticed his pants were unzipped and
his penis was out. Being a seven-year-old, I bluntly told him that that was not
nice and that he'd better get off my bed.
My first acquaintance with sex was in second and third grade when I began to
talk with older boys and girls because of my early maturation. The older
children told me that girls had a hole between their legs called a
"cunt." They told me to look at a cunt as soon as possible. Well,
curiosity had been invoked in me, so I stripped the girl next door and looked at
Several times when I was young it seemed as if exhibiting my body in the
presence of another boy would be exciting. I remember one situation in
particular with a boy three years younger than 1; 1 was about seven years old at
the time. We were both wearing swimming suits, but were walking together at some
distance from the beach. I openly fondled myself to the point of erection and
then displayed my penis to the younger boy. Then I urged him to pull down his
suit also, but for some reason he refused. Yet he was not at all subtle at
looking at my erect penis.
Sexual encounters often involve an adult male exposing his genitals to one or
more children, especially girls, without their being any physical contact
between them. In some cases the exhibitionist also masturbates in their
presence. It is not uncommon for children who grow up in urban environments to
encounter such exhibitionists. A child, especially one who has had a sheltered
upbringing, may find the experience upsetting.
The darkness of the theater made us [seven-year-olds] a little reticent to
search for a seat until our eyes readjusted to the indistinctness. To my right
sat two of my friends and next to one friend sat a man. He was no concern of
ours because many times parents accompanied their children to the movies. What
happened then took place so quietly and swiftly I doubt that anyone else in the
theater was aware of the horrible sensation that we felt. All of a sudden I was
aware that my friends were not watching the movie, but their attention and eyes
were focused on the man. His raincoat was open and he had fully exposed himself
and was manipulating his genitals. He seemed to be almost laughing softly, and
sat there staring at us. We did not fully understand what was happening. We sat
there and stared in awe with feelings of curiosity and inquisitiveness while
greatly mixed with emotions of distaste and repulsiveness. Yet, we did not
scream or break into hysterics, but sat as though we were hypnotized. We must
have all felt as though the sight was wrong, because in unison the three of us
quietly left our seats and headed towards the back of the theater.
When I was very young, maybe seven or eight years old, I got to know an old
couple who lived next door. I never really liked the man though, because he was
hunched over and always seemed a little friendly, especially when his wife was
gone. One day my friend and I were supposed to take something over to the
neighbor lady, but the lady wasn't home and only the old man was there. He was
friendly to us as usual and gave us candy. Then he told us that he had something
special to show us, but we had to promise not to tell anyone what we saw. Of
course we were curious, so he took us in the bathroom, unzipped his pants and
showed us his pubic hairs, saying that they were about the longest ones anyone
could have. We were really shocked and left immediately. I don't think that I
was so scared by what happened as by what could happen if anyone found out.
Touching and fondling of a sensual and sexual nature are experiences at
children can have with persons of almost any age. Some are accidental r
incidental to other activity; some are pleasant to the child, others are not.
I do recall that I had pleasurable experiences connected to the rectal
portion of a physical examination given me by the doctor during one illness when
I was about three.
In first grade, I can remember my first actual erection. I was sitting on my
teacher's lap. I was neither ashamed nor embarrassed at the little bulge in my
Children seek body contact with others. In one survey, kindergarten teachers
reported that children often sought to be held close, to sit on the teacher's lap,
and to be kissed. In another survey, the majority of teachers ported that the
major motivation of the children appeared to be to experience security, closeness
to an adult, and affection; 20 percent reported that n some instances the child
explored the teacher's body (as reported by Reinisch 1987). Many times the
touching or fondling involves a child having contact with someone only a few
years younger or older for security, but out of curiosity, or for pleasure.
When I was about seven years old, my eleven-year-old neighbor girlfriend and
I would get together and play games which involved fondling and exploring each
other's body. A game that we played was referred to as "upper" and
"lower" and this would include choosing one of the words and the other
person would stimulate that portion of the body for about ten to fifteen
minutes. This we did anywhere since it did not involve taking off clothes, just
placing the hand inside the clothes. By sexual contacts I had a release of
strange feelings inside me and got much physical satisfaction when arms were
I [a twelve-year-old male] was curious about the little girls' genital system
and I proceeded to suggest a game where I could explore this area. We turned off
the fights and I played the role of monster. The other children were to run
around the room and keep away from me. When I caught them I would supposedly eat
them. The game went fine and I achieved what I had set out to do-to find out
what a girl's penis" felt like when I squeezed it. As the children ran from
me I would catch a boy and throw him down and pretend I was eating him and give
him a little hit on the rump or on the leg, but when I caught a little girl I
immediately grabbed her vaginal area with my whole hand and rubbed and squeezed
it a couple or three times. While I did this I distracted her attention from my
grip by mumbling a few monster groans and yelling "I'm going to eat
From my kindergarten year, there is one incident which stands out in my mind.
My sixteen-year-old uncle was baby-sitting while my parents were out for the
evening. After I got ready for bed he asked me if I wanted a back rub, I said
yes, and I laid down on the bed. He rubbed my back and after a few minutes he
pulled down my pants. He told me not to say anything and proceeded to examine
and finger my genital area. He said that he just wanted to see something. I
don't exactly remember my reaction although I know I was too embarrassed to tell
There was an older boy who lived on our block who initiated sexual contact
with me. He was about fifteen years old and I [a girl] about ten, I believe. He
used to tease us and play school with us. Whenever he'd punish me he'd take me
into his little room behind the furnace and pretend to whip me. One time though
he put his hand down my pants. I got scared but he convinced me it was all right
to do. From then on he would put his hand in my pants whenever an opportunity
presented itself. He even started putting my hand in his pants to play with his
penis. Once he baby-sat with me and brought a friend. I enjoyed their attention
and obliged them in sex play. They took me into my room separately and showed me
their penises and had me fondle diem. I remember thinking that they were huge.
This type of activity continued with these two for about four months. I was
getting very upset about my relations with these boys and decided to call it all
off. I was beginning to change to conform to our society's standards.
I think I found out about intercourse and conception from an older neighbor
boy [probably about three years older]. He would give me pornographic books and
magazines to read, and when he had a chance, would fondle my body some. This was
happening when I was about in sixth grade.
The older of the two does not have to be much older to impress the younger
partner and win compliance, as in the following case.
He came and sat down next to me at the party, put his arm around me and
kissed me, at the same time putting his hand on my breast. Since it had been
arranged that I was to be with him, and since I assumed that this was as
accepted as was kissing, I did not resist. It was important to me that he was
interested since he was a year older than me, and therefore would be quite a
status builder. We spent this evening together, he quite fascinated with my
breasts (he told me I had quite a handful), but this was the extent of the sex
play. We were never together again, nor did we even ever acknowledge that we
knew each other upon meeting.
It is not unusual for a child to be touched or fondled by an older man, often
a grandfatherly figure well known to the child, a man who takes the child into
his lap and tells stories or reads a book. For young children there is a greater
likelihood of such an encounter with an older man that they know than there is
that an older stranger will expose himself to them.
"Grandpa" (my aunt's father), who was about eighty-five years old,
piled the three of us on his lap to read us a story from a children's book , At
age seven, I still enjoyed having older people read to me. After he finished
reading he placed the book on the coffee table and just talked with us about
what we had been doing. As he was talking, I felt his aged hand reach into my
underpants and touch me. I was pretty young so I really didn't know what to do
or say. I felt like telling what he was doing, but I was too afraid so I
remained completely silent.
Our next door neighbors had their grandfather living with them, whom I had
admired very much for the stories he told. One day while sitting on his lap, he
started rubbing my genitals. I tried to make an excuse to leave, but he would
not let me. I was scared. Finally, I broke away from the old man. This happened
every time I would visit there until I refused to go into the house anymore.
Sexual encounters with someone older often prove to be a learning experience.
Boys in particular, and especially those from lower socio-economic classes,
receive considerable information and "help' on sex matters from older
boys, or from adults, and in many cases their first heterosexual experience is
with older girls who are already experienced (Kinsey et al. 1948). Rainwater
(1970) found that preadolescents in the Pruitt Igo area of St. Louis, a federal
slum, showed a great interest in the grown-up world. These preadolescents
observed adolescents engaging in sexual activity since much adolescent sexual
activity took place outside the home-in hallways, stairwells, galleries, laundry
rooms, and on the project grounds. Adults in Pruitt Igo thought of
preadolescence as a period of intense imitation of adults, unlike middle-class
adults, who are more likely to think of their children as innocent of such
knowledge and activity.
Children were often present during conversations about
sexual behavior, a favorite topic of conversation among both adolescents and
adults. They learned the words, concepts, implications, and meaning of sexual
terms and could appear remarkably sophisticated even though they had not had
exposure to sexual behavior directly. One of the ways that their sexual
knowledge developed was through learning to master traditional stories or
"toasts" of the folk culture. Actual observation of sexual activity
made it possible for many preadolescents to tell stories abut such events. By
preadolescence they not only knew "how to do but they also knew that
sexual activity is regarded as desirable. According to Rainwater, they moved
early and easily from listening to sex conversation and from passive observation
to active participation. Not that they moved directly to sexual intercourse;
their relationships were primarily social and were modeled after the "going
steady" pattern of youth. Play activity often eventuated in playing at
sexual intercourse, which may or may not involve actual penetration. The girls
were ambivalent about playing sex with a boy; however, they were committed
anticipatorily to the roles of sex partners as part of their developing
conception of themselves as women.
The following cases of middle-class children also have an instructive
I remember one scene very well. He had an older sister. Now that sex was
beginning to interest me, I wanted to know what his sister was like. In short, I
had very little knowledge of girls. He described her very unattractively. In
fact, it made me somewhat nauseated to think of a girl in respect to her
My first encounter with sex as a reality was when I was about seven or eight.
A helpful older friend casually offered me a rather vague definition of coitus.
I wasn't really at all sure of what he meant. It seemed like a strange thing to
do with a girl as the thought had never entered my mind before. There was no
desire on my part to learn anything more about it at the time.
When I was eight years old, a boy at the age of puberty fascinated me with
off-color stories which I really didn't understand. Following a few nights of
dirty jokes, he proceeded to demonstrate masturbation to me. When he had
succeeded in reaching orgasm, he suggested that I try like stimulation. There
were no results in my efforts whatsoever.
My cousin [age 13] and I [age 10] would lie on the couch, unzip each other's
pants and fondle, caress and masturbate each other. We would take turns
stimulating each other and then fondle each other simultaneously. I received
great pleasure from this.
When I was approximately nine years old I played with a 14-year-old boy. One
day when we were out in the woods he unzipped his pants and began to masturbate.
I didn't really know why. He told me that it just felt good, that it was fun,
and I should try it. So I did, and it was fun. I masturbated by myself following
this episode. I also masturbated with the neighbor boy, not performing the act
on each other but being in the same room together.
Boys sometimes engage in fellatio with older boys or men.
When I was eight years old a boy at the age of puberty enlisted my aid in
forming a "club." Each meeting had to be brought to order by rubbing
the blunt edge of a knife along each other's penis. Following this we engaged in
fellatio, for him to orgasm, for me there was no apparent purpose.
One day the adolescent boy who taught me how to masturbate told me what a
"blow job" was and wanted me to give him one. I made a feeble attempt
at it but I thought it tasted awful.
Among the Siwams of Africa, all men and boys engage in anal intercourse.
Males are singled out as peculiar if they do not indulge in these same-sex
activities. Prominent Siwam men lend their sons to each other, and they talk
about their masculine love affairs as openly as they discuss their love of
women. Both married and unmarried males are expected to have both same- and
opposite-sex affairs. Among Aborigines of Australia, this type of coitus is also
a recognized custom between unmarried and uninitiated boys (Ford and Beach 195
1). Among the Aranda of Australia, pederasty is a recognized custom. Commonly a
man who is fully initiated but not yet married takes a boy ten or twelve years
old who lives with him as a wife for several years, until the older man marries.
The boy must belong to the proper marriage class from which the man might take a
Anal intercourse is not a common children's activity in America, but it does
enter into the sexual practice of some. In the following case, a boy of five or
six is introduced to both oral and anal sex, as well as to mutual masturbation.
My first sexual experience with another boy came at the age of five or six,
when I would play with this boy who was about sixteen. He would ask me if I
wanted to go into his house for something to eat, like some cookies or
something. Of course I would go. Next he would ask me if I would go into the
bedroom with him. Upon entering the bedroom, he would undress and ask me to do
the same. I would, probably out of fright. After undressing, he would tell me to
bend over and then he would insert his erect penis into my anus and start
thrusting back and forth. He would then stimulate my penis and want me to do the
same to him. We also masturbated each other, with him reaching orgasm and myself
only being stimulated. I also spent some time in oral-genital contact. I did
find the whole experience quite pleasing and continued to engage in these
activities for a week or two. Then, and I don't recall why, we suddenly stopped
doing it completely.
I [eleven years old] had become friendly with a boy five years younger than
myself and soon started thinking of sex. We began by fondling each other's
genitals and soon proceeded to playing games involving our sex organs. This
relationship went on for a month; we attempted to engage in penile-anal
Sexual intercourse is not a common form of sex play in which children in U.S.
society engage, while it is established practice in some societies. Among the
Lepcha of India, older men occasionally copulate with girls as young as eight
years of age (Ford and Beach 195 1). This is not regarded as a criminal offense.
Girls in Basutoland, South Africa, are expected to attire themselves with rings
or braided grass and cowhide, and white clay is rubbed on their bodies and legs.
These young girls are first instructed for a period of some weeks in the details
of sexual intercourse, after which they are circumcised (that is, the clitoris
is amputated). This is done to prevent them from engaging in promiscuous sexual
activity when they are married. As part of this rite, they act out coital
positions with each other (Sexology XXX, 1964).
Among preadolescents in other societies-the Moari of New Zealand, the
Trobrianders of Melanesia, the Chewa of Africa, and the Lepcha of India-it is
common for girls and boys to be active participants in full sex relations
several years before puberty and in some cases much earlier. In permissive
societies, there may be active instruction in sex matters by older members of
the group (Ford and Beach 1951).
In most societies, adults are active in trying to prevent children and pre-adolesceitts from having sexual encounters rather than initiating them into
such encounters. In some societies, adults attempt to deny young children any
form of sexual experience or sex education. In the past this was the prevailing
practice in many homes in the United States. Many adults avoid mentioning
matters of sexual significance in the presence of children. Among the natives of
the western Carolines, sex is never discussed in the presence of children,
especially girls. Cuna children of Panama remain ignorant of sexual matters, as
far as adult instruction is concerned, until the last stages of the marriage
ceremony. Chagga of Tanganyika children are told that babies come out of the
forest (Ford and Beach 195 1). In a number of these societies, particular pains
are taken to prevent offspring from accidentally observing sexual behavior.
One method of controlling the sexual activity of children is to separate the
sexes and keep them under surveillance. Among the Murgen of Australia, boys are
removed from the family dwelling to the boys' house or bachelors' house when
they are four or five years old; this is done for the specific purpose of
preventing them from witnessing sexual behavior at home. The Panamanian Cuna
children are not even allowed to watch animals give birth (Ford and Beach 1951).
Among the Abipone of South America, boys and girls are strictly segregated at
all times and premarital chastity is said to be universal. A similar situation
exists among the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Papago of North America, and Wapisiana
of British Guiana, all of whom keep the sexes strictly apart from childhood.
Boys and girls never associate in the absence of chaperones (Ford and Beach
In the United States, parents, the church, the school, courts, and other
agencies are influential in defining and controlling sexual behavior. For
example, the school-grade school, junior high school, high school-is permissive
in that it plans dances and parties for boys and girls, but chaperonage is
commonly provided and erotic behavior is proscribed. The schools take a
proprietary interest in the total life of the students and are sometimes more
restrictive than are parents.
But communities in the United States vary greatly. Kinsey et al. (1948) found
that interest in coitus and knowledge and acceptance of premarital coitus were
well established among boys age seven in some American communities, and in some
instances as early as four years of age. Especially in some urban communities,
by age seven boys knew that coitus was one of the activities that most of their
older acquaintances were engaging in; and they had already learned that coitus
was one of the things considered highly desirable. Much of the sexual
sophistication came from associating with older companions. Children overhear
adolescent boys talking to one another about naked women and couples who have
had sex relations. The size and shape of a woman's vagina are topics of
conversation among boys and men, and younger boys learn from older males that
women are objects of sexual gratification. As a consequence, they orient their
thoughts and behavior in accordance with what other males expect of them as
young, on-the-make machos.
Kinsey et al. (1948) found that boys from
comparatively sheltered upper socio-economic level homes were not exposed to such
experiences and were likely to confine their sex play to exhibition and manual
manipulation of the genitals. These boys did not attempt coitus because, in many
instances, they had not learned that there is such a possibility. In spite of
their limited contact with coitus or information about coitus, children raised
in homes of educated parents have often seen adult genitalia at an early age,
primarily because of the greater acceptance of nudity in their homes when
compared to the homes of others.
The following cases show some of the naivety present in sexual encounters
between children and someone older.
My [a girl] earliest experience with sex occurred when I was approximately
five years old. One day a buddy of my brother's came over who was eleven years
old. My brother was not home at the time so he asked if I would play with him. I
said I would. Somehow we ended up in the haymow sliding around in the hay.
Later, resting on top of the hay, he asked me if I wanted to play doctor.
Thinking it was all in fun, I said yes. He informed me that he was the doctor
and I the patient. I was about to have a baby and he was going to operate. He
unzipped my pants, took them off, and proceeded to do the same with his. He
tried to have intercourse but did not succeed. Thinking it all was a game, and
of course knowing nothing about sex at that time, I thought it was perfectly all
In the following case a girl eight years old and "not very mature"
was with her cousin, age sixteen, who was "sort of left with the
responsibility of baby-sitting."
He had me undress in his room and he began to fondle me and investigate the
various unfamiliar parts of my body. Then he laid me on the bed and he also took
off his clothes before lying down on the bed with me. He continued to caress me
and soon became quite excited and then he attempted to have intercourse with me,
but the pain was too great for me and I began to cry, and there was also some
bleeding in the vaginal area. I ran to the bathroom and stayed there crying
until my parents returned a short time later. When my parents returned my cousin
was hysterical and running around gathering clothes and food in preparation for
running away from home. The calm and reasonableness shown by my parents saved
the day for both of us.
In the following case involving urethral damage, the sexual naiveté of the
two middle-class boys is apparent.
We two boys, I age seven and my friend twelve years old, came from
middle-class families having many interests in common, such as baseball and
hiking. Sex, however, was not one of these interests for me as it was for him. I
cannot exactly remember how it all started, but I think it was in the form of
the "doctor" game. He fondled my genitals and encouraged me to do the
same to him. It was a new experience for me, but I cannot recall if it was
pleasurable or not. His erect penis was quite a mystery to me, and I had no idea
of why it got that way. At one time he was quite rough with my penis and as a
consequence there was some blood in my urine. This frightened me, but it seemed
to frighten him more when I told him that I was going to tell my mother. Since
he was older than I was and one of the few playmates that I had, I did not tell.
It is widely held that children would be better able to deal with or avoid
sexual encounters of the kind discussed in this chapter if age-appropriate
sexuality education was generally available to them. We discuss the issue of
sexuality education in Chapter 7.
Most of the studies of child sexual activity wherein the participants have
been of markedly different ages have dealt only with clinical or offender
populations, and few studies have sought any but the negative reactions of
children to these sexual experiences-thus giving a distorted view of reality
The clinical samples consist almost exclusively of those
suffering relatively serious negative consequences with 20 to 25 percent of the
cases of suspected child-adult sexual abuse showing signs of physical trauma or
The recent study by Kilpatrick (1992) differs from other studies in that
it includes no clinical or offender population and allows for respondents to
give positive and neutral, as well as negative, responses to their childhood
sexual experiences. The sample population was 501 Southern adult women who were
asked to recall their childhood sexual experiences. Sixty-seven percent of the
white respondents and 36 percent of the black respondents reported having sexual
experiences as children. Kilpatrick found that the larger proportion of women
(67%) remembered having participated voluntarily rather than involuntarily in
sexual activity, and most reported having been active in initiating such
activity, while a smaller proportion (33%) felt that they had in some way been
pressured or forced. Thirty-eight percent of the women found their experiences
to be pleasant, 37 percent neither pleasant nor unpleasant, and 25 percent found
the experiences to be unpleasant. Sixty-eight percent reported having had
overall positive responses to their sexual experiences, while negative reactions
of anger, fear, or shock were reported by 32 percent.
Despite the negative
responses, 72 percent felt that their child sexuality was not harmful, and 83
percent felt it was not abusive. The women had had partners in their sexual
experiences as children who were relatives and non-relatives, as well as older
and younger. Most women had had their sexual experiences with other children;
only 17 percent of the white sample and 5 percent of the black sample reported
having had partners who were at least five years older than they were. Like
Kilpatrick Goldman and Goldman (1988) found in a retrospective study of 1,000
Australian youth that most had either positive or neutral feelings regarding
their childhood sexual experiences, and most of their experiences had been with
children their own age.
The type or age of partners did not appear to be significantly related to the
women's functioning as adults, which challenges a linear assumption that all
children are victimized by any type of sexual experience with a person who is
five or more years older (see also Constantine 198 lb).
The sexual activity engaged in was "kissing and hugging in a sexual
way" (37%) followed by exposing of the genitals. The only other activity
that 5 percent or more had participated in was masturbation. Only 2 percent had
engaged in intercourse by age fourteen or younger.
Despite these findings of little reported harm or abuse from their childhood
sexual experiences, Kilpatrick (1992) warned that under no circumstance should
her findings be used to sanction child-adult sexual relations. Kilpatrick agreed
with Finkelhor (1979) that a child is not in a position to give informed
consent, and such relationships involve unequal power on the part of the
participants. Kilpatrick concluded that in child-adult sexual activity there is
psychological, if not physical, coercion and it should be treated as such.
The question of child sexual activity being abusive remains a moot question in
U.S. society. There is no universally accepted definition of child sexual abuse
and no general agreement about the effect on children of sexual experiences with
persons somewhat older. Evaluations of child sexual experiences vary. Some use
sex abuse as a catchall term for almost any type of child-adult contact. Others
see any experience as abusive if the older participant is at least five years
older than the child (Finkelhor 1979).
Furthermore, there is to date no consensus on the scope of child-adult sexual
activity or the emotional and behavioral consequences for the child (Konker
1992). Even the professional groups involved in dealing with individual cases of
child sexual abuse differ in their definitions. Each tends to use definitional
criteria that are most in line with the goals of their profession (Haugaard and
Reppucci 1988). There is increasing agreement among social workers and other
helping professions that sexual abuse of children does involve coercion or
nonconsensual sexual acts (Kilpatrick 1992).
The term child abuse was not used before the 1960s, and its definitional
reach has expanded in the years since. Broadening the definition of the terms
child abuse and especially child sexual abuse, after the initial paper by Kempe
and associates (1962) on the "battered child syndrome" and the
widespread attention it received in the media, was due to several factors.
was concern for the well-being of children, though there is to date no consensus
on what constitutes sexual well-being for children. Second, child advocates felt
that it was important to alter and broaden the consciousness of children about
what constitutes abuse.
The child, or the adult whom the therapist suspects may
have been abused as a child, often has a definition of sexual abuse that does
not include what was done to him or her, as was true in many of the cases in
which children talk about their experiences; therefore the therapist feels it is
incumbent to ask about specific behaviors and feelings that the therapist
regards as indicative of abuse (Hunter 1990). It stands to reason that the
broader the therapist's definition of what constitutes sexual abuse, the more
abuse the therapist will find.
According to Gilbert (1991), another reason for
broadening the definition of the term child sexual abuse was to persuade the
public that the problem is vastly larger than was commonly recognized. And it
has worked; a broader definition has alerted both professionals and the public
to the prevalence of child sexual experiences that should be defined as abusive.
Only one in ten Americans thought that child abuse was a serious problem in
1978, in contrast to nine out of ten by 1982 (Gelles and Straus 1988).
poll of mental health and legal professionals in Virginia shows that 20 percent
of them believe that frequent hugging of a ten- or fifteen-year-old child by his
or her parents requires intervention. Most of the professionals felt that no
intervention was necessary if a parent often kissed a five-year-old on the lips,
but from 44 to 67 percent felt some intervention should be undertaken recently felt
some intervention should be undertaken if ten- or fifteen-year-old children were
kissed. Similarly, 90 percent felt that some type of intervention was called for
if a parent often appeared nude in front of a ten- or fifteen-year-old child,
and 75 percent if the child was five years old (Haugaard and Reppucci 1988).
In a detailed review of nineteen studies concerned with the prevalence of
child sexual abuse among females, the results ranged from a low of 6 percent to
a high of 62 percent of all females reporting abuse (Peters, Wyatt, and
Finkelhor 1986). Such statistics reflect differences in definitions of child
sexual abuse used in various studies, different populations surveyed, and
differences in questions asked of the sample population.
The field of child sexuality is in its infancy as far as defining what is
abusive and in identifying, preventing, and treating sexual activity that is
abusive. The efforts that are being made by institutions and professionals need
to be supported, while at the same time efforts to increase our knowledge base
and efforts to address the need for uniform standards of training, supervision,
intervention, protocols, counseling and therapy, evidence collecting, and civil
and criminal court testimony need to be pressed forward (Konker 1992).
A family needs to be close. An infant especially, needs to feel accepted and
attended to by its parents and to feel closely identified with them (Bowlby
1965). Giovacchini (1986) referred to this primitive form of erotic need and
preoccupation embracing the need to be cared for, fed, nurtured, and comforted
as pre-genital. Freud also ascribed sexual feelings to young children, referring
to these early sexual feeling as pre-genital in contrast to genital sexual
feelings that occur with gonadal maturation (Brill 1948).
Meeting the infant's
attachment needs does not need to include fondling and stroking the stomach,
stimulating the child's genitals, passionately kissing on the lips, or
performing fellatio on a male infant. These and other practices have been found
to occur among incestuous mothers (Chasnoff 1986; Stroufe and Ward 1980). Such
behaviors are seductive. They are insensitive and unresponsive to the real needs
of the child and draw the child into patterns of interaction that may be
over-stimulating and inappropriate; the infant primarily needs affectionate care
and nurturance (Sroufe and Ward 1980). On the other hand, it is important that
overt erotic attraction and gratification occur in the parent-child
relationship, but it is important that it be regulated by the family (Parsons
1954).Dysfunctional families are often dysfunctional in that they evince too
much interconnectedness and enmeshment, or homeostasis (Alexander 1985).
Genital eroticism is both permitted and expected of the marital pair and, in a
well-regulated home, they are considered to have a monopoly on the right to
genital eroticism. Pre-genital eroticism, on the other hand, is approved in the
early mother-child relationship and also in the father-child relationship.
Strong motivation is built up in the child through the enjoyable erotic
relationships. The extent of the erotic involvement and its control is the
parent's responsibility. Without such control the parent-child relationship, in
fact the family sexual culture, will become incestuous.
distinguished three dimensions of family sexuality that are determinative.
First, families may prompt positive or negative attitudes in their children
toward sexuality. In sex-positive families, children receive accurate
information about sex and are given positive attitudes about their bodies and
shown physical affection, while in sex-negative families sex is fraught with
anxiety and taboos. The second dimension concerns how sexualized the family
interaction becomes. In highly sexualized families, members use one another as
sexual objects, while low sexualized families discourage sexual activity inside
the family. The third dimension involves personal boundaries. Clear boundaries
imply respect for the privacy of each member of the family, with a clear
differentiation of sex roles between adults and children. With poor personal
boundaries, family members intrude on one another, and adult sexual behavior is
not clearly distinguished from child sexual behavior.
The 1986 World Health
Organization report on child sexual abuse describes what it calls an
incestogenic family as a family that is socially isolated; the father is often
depressive and possessive and tends to sexualize his own problems and his
relations with the child or children; the mother often appears to be
psychologically submissive and unable to protect the children.
In families wherein a parent becomes sexually involved with a child, it is most
often an experience involving father and daughter. Summit and Kryso (1978)
asserted that a father should be harmless for his daughter to flirt with. He should
approve, admire, and respond to her growing sexual attraction and should provide
a controlled, self-limited prototype of the sensual experiences she will develop
with other men later on. Both father and mother should share this sense of
appropriateness of the father-daughter prototype romance, and both should be
comfortable in recognizing and defining appropriate limits. (Summit and Kryso
In such a relationship incestuous activity begins only if and when the father
bends these limits and the mother does not interfere. When a father interacts
with his daughter, he may at first have no intention that it shall be sexual,
but there is a body of clinical evidence that shows that incestuous desires are
regularly engendered within the nuclear family and are kept in restraint only
through persistent individual repression and social pressure. There does not
appear to be any natural revulsion against incest in young children.
impression is gained that fathers are often "careful seducers,"
cunning in their attempts to persuade a child of theirs and able to break down
any resistance with a high degree of success (Frude 1982). Sexual behavior
between father and daughter is often marked by a gradual escalation from
fondling and petting to more specifically genital behavior. One daughter
reported that she en oyed it and was fully orgasmic in the relationship (Frude
1982); Renshaw (1977) reported that twenty-two of thirty-two male and female
sons and daughters climaxed in such father-child sexual relationships.
It has been said that children are easy to seduce because they want to be
seduced. This is true if by that we mean that infants and small children want to
be held and caressed, or as Bowlby (1965) has said, the drive of the organism
toward achieving good personal relations is real and persistent. And if they
have learned that sexual behavior is a way to gain attention of a parent, such
behavior may become pronounced as they curry attention. This does not imply that
the child recognizes the sexual meaning of his or her behavior in any adult
sense, nor does it attribute culpability to the child in any ensuing incestuous
activity that an adult may initiate. The child uses it instead to obtain
nurturance (Rosenfeld 1979).
Some families claim to practice family sexual expression in a highly educated,
sophisticated, and carefully responsible manner with benefit to their children
(Nelson 1979). There are those among them who have been influenced by Wilhelm
Reich, Ren6 Guyon, and others, and they are convinced that they have a
responsibility to help their children express their infantile sexuality in a
genital way (Miller 1984). Such behavior leaves many questions, however. Are not
nurturing and affectionate intimacy sufficient to socialize children into this
later sensual aspect of life? Will children from such families continue to feel
that sexual intimacy in the family was right and good for them? Will they
subsequently be able to establish satisfying sexual relationships with others
beyond the home? For now at least, a more conservative course of action appears
to be more prudent for the family.
Father-daughter incest receives a great deal of attention in the media and is
by far more frequently recorded both clinically and in court records, but
sibling sexual activity is thought to be much more common. Siblings, especially
those who are close in age, spend much time interacting with each other during
the growing-up years. They live in the same household, are constantly present,
and share space, toys, clothes, and the attention of their parents and of each
The emphasis in the literature on sibling interaction has been largely limited
to consideration of only one dimension, namely, sibling rivalry. But sibling
interaction includes much more than just rivalry. Abramovitch et al. (1982)
observed children from two-child, middle-class, suburban families, following
them from approximately one and a half years old until the older sibling was
approximately five or six years old. They found that for intervals as long as
three years, siblings spent a great deal of time interacting with each other.
They were deeply involved with each other, regardless of the age intervals
between them or the sex composition of the pair. They treated each other in
aggressive ways, but they also cooperated, helped, and acted affectionately to
each other. In other words, they demonstrated a full range of social
The authors concluded that sibling relationships have something in
common that is different from other relationships, "perhaps closer, deeper,
more automatic and spontaneous" (Abramovitch et al. 1982:84-85).
(1979), in a review of the literature on sibling interaction, found as well that
concentrating on rivalry hides the richness and variety of experience that is
sibling interaction. Tsukada concluded that sibling relationships "provide
a child in most families with companionship, affection, and understanding, and
fulfill needs for peer group association. Furthermore, sibling associations are
lifelong, and in many cases provide significant relationships in adult
life" (Tsukada 1979:232). It has been said that the degree of affection
between siblings as adolescents is second only to the mother-child tie.
Given the constant, close, intimate interaction of siblings, it is
understandable that a certain amount of sex play occurs between them. Some of it
grows out of their great liking for each other, as the following cases
I was 8 or 9 and my brother was 10. We were playing in a relatively secluded
place, the sun was shining, and we undressed almost completely. He suggested
that we lie down. Without objection (I always used to obey him), I did. He had
something in mind; he was sexually excited. I did not feel anything sexual, but
I was flattered that he wanted to play with me and excited that he wanted to be
intimate with me. He performed sexual intercourse with me, but stopped after
some minutes. Then we got up and went on as usual.
My brother is a year older than I am. We were very fond of each other. When I
was in seventh grade we got very sexually involved. He told me all about sexual
intercourse. Every day after school we would go to his room and talk and fondle
one another. He had some rubbers and asked if he could have sexual intercourse
with me. I almost let him do it, but it was painful. He was very gentle and he
said he wouldn't do it. Sometimes we would play rape and I would be in his room
and he'd run in. We would fight and finally he'd rip my clothes off. This was
one of our favorite games.
My first erection having to do with sexual activity occurred around age 7. 1
was sitting on the floor in the living room next to my sister, four years older,
who was lying face down. The next thing I did was to mount myself on her
buttocks and do what would now be called "humping." Our parents were
in the room also, but all I cared about was deriving pleasure for myself. My
sister complained that I was hurting her, and my parents scolded me a little. I
remember being upset at their anger and their embarrassment and confusion when I
asked what I did wrong. I didn't do it again when my parents were around but
when my sister and I were alone, I would try "feeling good." In such
cases, she had to literally fight me off and I'd retreat and do something else.
This happened only 3 or 4 times.
But, alas, not all sibling sexual play is so innocent or remembered
pleasantly, especially if there is a marked difference in ages between the
I was a "victim" of incest (not including coitus) with my oldest
brother for several years starting approximately at age 8. 1 lived in constant
fear that I would be left alone in the house with him. I hated him with all my
heart. I felt I was the only young girl that this ever happened to and,
therefore, I had much guilt and never told anyone about it.
Mary was a sixth grader when she was raped by her 16-year-old brother. It was
clear that the father, as well as the brother, was a source of sexual torment to
her. [A social worker]
There is a special category of adults who enter into the lives of some
children; we designate them pedophiles. the word pedophile is made up of the
prefix pedo, which means "child," and the suffix phile, which refers
to an affinity for or loving. Hence the term pedophile literally means "one
who loves children."
The literal opposite of a pedophile would be a
pedophobe, one who fears or hates children. If this were the generally accepted
meaning of pedophile, we would expect that pedophiles would be highly regarded
in our society, but they are not because the kind of love referred to includes
sexual love. Pedophiles are more descriptively defined as adults who are
exclusively, or primarily, sexually attracted to children; hence pedophilia is
defined as a sexual perversion. Pedophilia has to be defined as deviant behavior
because there is no room in the normative structure of U.S. society for this
form of behavior (Mohr 198 1).
This normative perspective is reflected in
Finkelhor and Araji's (1986) sweeping definition of pedophilia as any adult
sexual contact with a child, regardless of motive. There is some difference of
opinion about how pedophilia should be defined. A World Health Organization
report (1986) states that pedophilia may or may not result in child sexual abuse
and should not be used synonymously with child sexual abuse. Pedophiles
sometimes defend themselves, saying that their feelings are not exclusively
sexual but include interest in how children feel and think (Sandfort and
Sandfort (1982) interviewed twenty-five Dutch boys who were located through
their adult partners. The boys were between the ages of ten and sixteen and were
involved in a pedophilic relationship with an adult male at the time they were
interviewed. The affairs had lasted between two months and six years. Pedosexual
contacts usually involve a relatively low level of physical intimacy, such as
touching, fondling, and exhibiting, and in the Sandfort study the adult always
masturbated the boy; in seven cases the adult had oral-anal contact with the
boy; if there was penal-anal contact, the boy most frequently penetrated the
man. Almost all of the boys seemed to be heterosexually oriented and though they
liked the man, they were not sexually attracted to him.
The findings do not
support the idea that these boys were seductive children who made the first
sexual initiation. In addition, almost every boy recognized that having sexual
relationships as a child with an adult is deviant, and since such contacts are
also criminal offenses in the Netherlands, it was necessary to keep them secret.
Most of the boys had pleasant relationships with their parents. They did not
appear to feel coerced into continuing the relationship. I the face of all of
this, why did the boys continue their pedophilic relationship? Their motives,
aside from the sexual pleasure they received, appeared to be that the boys and
the pedophile did lots of things together; the boys were attracted by the
atmosphere at the pedophile's place; he was someone with whom they could talk
easily; they received support in solving problems at home or in school; they
learned from the pedophile or experienced him as a model; and they received from
the pedophile friendship and, in a few cases, love. In reacting to Sandfort's
findings, it is well to keep in mind that the average Dutch child appears to be
more knowledgeable about sexuality than is the average child in the United
One cannot generalize from Sandfort's study of twenty-five boys, and cases of
violent physical sexual abuse as a result of adult-child sexual relations are
extensively documented. Abel, Mittelman, and Becker (1987) reviewed reports from
232 men (guaranteed confidentiality), who revealed that on the average they had
victimized seventy-six children. Incarcerated offenders also reported a high
incidence of encounters, reporting on the average eleven more victims than those
for which they were prosecuted.
Whether or not the adult was a "true"
pedophile is largely irrelevant; using the term sexual abuse, which is derived
from a legal perspective, the adult is always the offender and the child is the
victim. In more than half of the pedophilic cases the sexual crime was committed
many times with the same victim. From this perspective 100 percent of Sandfort's
sample of twentyfive boys were victims of sexual crime.
The child psychiatrists
Brant and Tisza (1977) prefer the term sexual misuse, a term that derives from a
mental health perspective. They define sexual misuse as exposure of a child to
sexual stimulation inappropriate to the child's age, level of psychosexual
development, and role in the family. What Brant and Tisza object to, as have
other scholars and therapists, is that the term child sexual abuse is pejorative
and compels one to think only in terms of victims and offenders.
One hears talk about rings, sex rings, or vice rings in which a number of
adults are involved with children in illicit activities. Ennew (1986), who was
commissioned by the English Anti-Slavery Society to write a report on child
prostitution and pornography, had the task of sifting through many reports on
vice rings and traffic and has no doubt that some cases exist but she saw none
that were proven conclusively.
On the other hand, Burgess (1984), in a two-year
project on the use of children in pornography funded by the National Center on
Child Abuse and Neglect, reported on fifty-five sex rings in the United States.
The methodology used in collecting the information is not discussed in the study
and complete data were not available; hence Burgess suggested that the evidence
should be treated a primarily descriptive and only possibly indicative of the
population of sex rings.
Three types of sex rings are delineated in the book. In
solo rings an adult operates alone with a small group of children, who know each
other and are conditioned or programmed by the adult to provide sexual services
in exchange for a variety of psychological, social, monetary, and other rewards.
Next is the transition ring. In such rings multiple adults are involved sexually
with children and the children are usually pubescent. The adults exchange or
sell pornographic photographs of the children and try to pressure the children,
who have been tested for their role as prostitutes, into the next level, the
syndicated ring. The syndicated ring is a well-structured organization that
involves the recruitment of children, the production of pornography, the
establishment of a network of customers, and the delivery of trade items (that
is, children, photographs, films, and tapes).
Ennew (1986) agreed that there is
a market for young children and that organized prostitution of children and
young people takes place in many countries and in various forms, but she
suggested that it is not as large a trade as moral crusaders would wish us to
According to Paul Knuckman (Burgess 1984), children in sex rings come from
families from which they are disengaged. They may see the adult in the ring as a
surrogate parent and often do not perceive themselves as victims, confusing as
they may love, trust, and comfort with sex. Whether or not they experience
physical abuse and trauma, they are defined as victims for they are prematurely
introduced into adult sexuality and aberrant behavior.
Child pornography is generally defined as magazines, books, photographs,
videotapes, and films that depict children of either gender in sexually explicit
acts, including exhibition of genitals, masturbation, oral sex, sexual
intercourse, and bestiality. Much of child pornography depicts an adult involved
with a child in mutual exhibition or some other type of sexual act. Before the
late 1960s, adult women with girlish figures were used as models in so-called
child pornography; the actual use of children as models, some as young as three
years old, is a fairly recent development.
Today many authorities believe that a
significant number of child pornography "stars" start out as teenage
runaways. In one county 86 percent of children involved in child pornography or
prostitution were runaways or missing (Burgess 1984). The total number of
children involved in child pomography may not be as large as believed since the
same children are often filmed or photographed and shown in more than one
product of the pornographic media (Ennew 1986). Child pornography is a
relatively lucrative business, and children on the street who must be concerned
about their survival may find that they are able to earn more from allowing
themselves to be photographed or filmed than they can from prostitution.
Unscrupulous adults interested in involving children in some sexual activity
often show them pornography as one of several ways used to lower their
inhibition and to persuade them to enter into some type of sexual act. Of the
sex rings reported on by Burgess (1984), 62 percent showed pornography to the
It has been estimated that in the United States 600,000 boys and girls under
sixteen years of age engage in prostitution to help supplement their income
while on the run (Pierce 1984). It is not so much that sexual abuse at home
leads to prostitution as it is that sexual abuse may lead to running away, and
running away leads to prostitution. The majority of child prostitutes were
runaways; the average age of first sexual intercourse was twelve, with the
greatest frequency occurring between ages ten and thirteen (Burgess 1984). A
number of children help support their families by working as child prostitutes.
In sum, the sexual encounters of children with older children, adolescents,
and adults can be instructive and pleasant, but it can also introduce children
into aspects of sexual life for which they are not physiologically,
psychologically, or socially ready, experiences that can prove to be
exploitative, abusive, and destructive. Children need to be educated in such a
way to prepare them for the sexual life they are entering and to protect them,
insofar as it is possible, from experiences that are not in their best interest.