Home Abuse Am I a Child Abuser?

Am I a Child Abuser?

by Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

When I was a child (6-8 at most) I pretended to have sex with my younger sister whilst we played families I didn’t really know what it was at the time. I never really thought about it until now after I saw a girl tell how her cousin abused her when she was 6 under the pretence they were playing house. I feel really guilty. Does this mean I abused my sister?

If I had the opportunity to interview you, I would want to know more about what you mean by the phrase “pretended to have sex.” What exactly did you do to pretend? Your version of pretend sex might be very different than what others would do, especially because you were so young.

In addition, I would also inquire about what may have prompted this behavior. Was it something you had witnessed? Was it something you were curious about? Sometimes, when people are exposed to sexual activities or behaviors as a child, they attempt to re-create these with others.

Studies show that it’s quite normal for children to engage in sexual behavior. At least 50% of children will engage in some type of sexual behavior before the age of 13. In one study, at least 73% of those questioned about their own sexual experiences before the age of 13, recalled engaging in sexual behaviors with other children.

In one study of children without a history of abuse, it was common for them to engage in sexual behaviors which included putting their tongue in another person’s mouth while kissing, rubbing their body against others, and touching children’s and adult’s genitals. These types of behaviors were more common in children ages 2 to 5 years old than older children ages six through 12. It seems as though these behaviors diminish as a child gets older. Most children eventually stopped exhibiting those behaviors due to embarrassment, fear or being punished by a parent.

Less common sexual behaviors in young children included those imitating intercourse. Such behaviors may imply that a child has been sexually abused but further evaluation would be needed to make such a determination.

As I mentioned above, one of the questions I would have for you is what prompted you to attempt this with your sister? It may have been a sign of abuse.

Studies have also indicated that children who engage in a greater variety and frequency of sexual behaviors that involved others may have done so because of their environments. For instance, those living in a foster care home or attending child care services were shown to have increased frequency of observed sexual behaviors. The reason, researchers theorized, especially among those in child care settings, was that there were more opportunities for children to interact with each other in both sexual and nonsexual ways.

In addition, if a child lives in an environment where sexual activities are openly occurring, or they are poorly supervised or have easy access to pornographic materials, this can increase their likelihood of openly engaging in sexual behaviors.

I cannot say with certainly whether or not you abused your sister. I do not have enough information to make that determination via the internet, but pretending to abuse her is not the same as actually abusing her. By definition, pretend means “to speak and act so as to make it appear that something is the case when it is in fact not.” The key part being the latter phrase, “when it is in fact not” the case. Based on your letter, it would seem that you did not touch your sister and therefore could not have actually abused her. I would recommend meeting with a therapist to discuss this issue in greater depth. It could assist you in gaining clarity about what happened. Thank you for your question. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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