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My best friend’s child is abusing other kids

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

My best friend’s 9-year-old has been caught several times being sexual with kids younger than her. Now her child is going to see a therapist. What’s going on and how do I react? I want to be a good friend but I have a toddler and I want to make sure nothing happens to him in case her daughter keeps doing this.

Response: 
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Dear Concerned Parent,

It’s great that you’re looking for more information about your friend’s daughter’s behavior and keeping your child safe. I can tell that you care about your toddler’s safety, and it’s great that you’re asking how to do so while still supporting your friend and her daughter.

Children’s Sexual Behavior Problems
Children’s sexual behaviors can be confusing, and when children are consistently ignoring boundaries and acting out with younger children, there is a real call for adult guidance and intervention. Your friend is doing so by getting her daughter counseling, and you are doing this as well by reaching out for help.

It’s important to know that children’s sexual behaviors are very different from of those of adults. Children may act out sexually for a number of reasons, and engaging in sexually harmful behaviors does not necessarily mean that they will become sexually aggressive adults. In many cases, children may not even understand that their behaviors are harmful. You can read our guidebook, Do Children Sexually Abuse Other Children? Preventing Sexual Abuse Among Children And Youth, for more information on children’s sexual behavior problems.

The good news is that the sooner children receive help with these behaviors the better able they are to learn how to reduce these behaviors. Your friend has already taken a crucial step by taking her daughter to a professional counselor.

Supporting Everyone
You may want to share the information provided, including our website and helpline, with your friend. It can open the lines of communication and demonstrate that you care about supporting her and her daughter. She may find helpful resources on our site that are specific to her and her daughter’s situation.

You can also support your friend and her daughter through this process by helping your friend model appropriate behavior and safe boundaries for her daughter, and by creating an environment in your home in which everyone has clear expectations about what is and isn’t appropriate. This is also a great safety measure for your toddler.

Safety Planning
Creating a family safety plan is a great first step toward a safe environment. A family safety plan is a set of rules and guidelines about boundaries and behavior. These rules might include no playing with doors closed, only one person in the bathroom at a time, that clothes must stay on while playing, and that children must always be supervised by an adult. In this case, your toddler should not be left alone with your friend’s daughter. These rules apply to all kids and adults in your family, and can be shared with your friend and her daughter and any other visitors to your home.

It’s important to view these rules not as punishment, but a way to help everyone stay safe. Consequences when a child breaks these rules can be handled much in the same way as if they broke any other rule, like hitting or stealing, and do not have to be shaming or reactive.

The Safety Planning content in our Online Help Center can offer more suggestions on how to create, use, and share a safety plan for your family. Because your friend’s daughter needs help in keeping herself and others safe, you may want to encourage her to also create a family safety plan that is specific to her daughter’s needs.

Sexuality Education
Education for yourself and your child is another crucial step in prevention. This means being aware of Age-Appropriate Sexual Behavior in children, which will make it easier to identify Warning Signs in Children of Possible Abuse. (These warning signs can also be signs of stress, so it’s best to look for a pattern or cluster of warning signs rather than just one or two.)

This can also include teaching your toddler about respect and boundaries, the importance of respecting someone’s “no”, and about sexual development in an age-appropriate way. For a toddler, this could be as basic as teaching them the proper names of body parts so there is less confusion about telling if they have a problem. You can find a number of helpful resources for age-appropriate sex education in our Children’s Sexuality Development and Behaviors resource list.

Healthy Relationships
Lastly, continue to build your relationship with your son. It may be easier for your child to come to you with something that makes them confused or uncomfortable, or for you to have conversations with your child about difficult topics, if there is already a culture of trust, support, and open communication in your home.

I hope that your friend and her daughter find the help that she needs, and that this information is helpful to all of you moving forward.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: March 20th, 2017