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Why Do They Do It?


“You want to know why he did it. He can’t tell you. You may never know.  He probably doesn’t know.”

 adolescent sexual offender therapist 

Every person who initiates sexual activity with a child, even a child or teen, is solely responsible for their actions and choices.  But no one makes choices in a vacuum. The outside influences and events that contribute to them are real. While a child who initiates sexual activity with a sibling needs to take responsibility for their actions, there are other factors that contribute to the tragedy of sibling sexual trauma.

Porn: This is a quickly-rising factor leading children to sexually harm others today. No matter how vigilant and careful parents are, no home is porn-proof in the internet age. Surveys find that the average age children are exposed to online porn is around 11-13 years old. When children and teens view porn, it blurs their boundaries and distorts their expectations for in-person sexuality. Most children who have viewed porn do not act out physically against other children. But it is a factor in a large percentage of those who do. Porn addiction is real and is becoming increasingly common, even in adolescents. 


Prior abuse of the child causing the harm: Some children who sexually harm others have been sexually traumatized by others. Most child sexual abuse is unknown to adults, and many children many deny being sexually abused, or not even remember it. This is particularly true of men and boys. They may actually find it easier to admit they did something wrong than to admit that wrong was done to them. It is important to note that most children who have been sexually abused do not go on to harm others.


Exposure to other kinds of abuse in the home: Even if a child has not been directly sexually abused, experiencing or witnessing physical or emotional abuse, or being neglected, raises the risk of the child crossing boundaries and behaving in an abusive way toward siblings or others. Sometimes children who suffer from parental neglect will turn to siblings for physical or emotional comfort, and this comfort becomes sexualized over time.

Opportunity and Immaturity: Preteens' and teens' brains have not yet developed the full capacity to control their impulses.  They cannot predict the consequences of their actions as well as a mature adult. Their sexual curiosity and desire may be greater than their self-control. Siblings may be the only other children they are around without adult supervision. Tragically, youth often act out sexually against a sibling simply because the sibling is there, is accessible.  


The peak age for anyone to engage in behavior that sexually harms a child is when they are still a child–age fourteen. The vast majority of these youth will never be charged of another sexual offense. 

Child Sexual Abuse Perpetration Can Be Prevented | Psychology Today


Atypical Development or Neurodiversity: Children whose physical and sexual development outpaces their mental maturity and social skills seem to be at higher risk for harmful sexual behavior, as well as higher risk to be sexually exploited. Unique Brains and Harmful Sexual Behavior

Inadequate parental supervision: There’s no way around it: many parents have to work, have to care of other children in the family, have their own human stresses and limitations. Homes have limited space. No parent can or even should supervise all children 24/7. Children can gain a lot of benefit from unstructured time with each other. Yet it is frighteningly easy for parents to put a child in a situation that the child does not have the self-control to handle appropriately, such as babysitting a younger sibling or sleeping in close quarters.  


Stress: Stress diminishes anyone’s ability to control their impulses. Children have a limited capacity for self-control to begin with. A child who is facing a stressful situation or living in a stressful environment may be more likely to act out sexually, to be unable to contain their actions.


Issues Surrounding Jealousy or Family Power Dynamics: Children who sense they are in a favored position within the family may take advantage of their status, knowing it protects them from parents believing what they have done or enforcing consequences. On the other hand, other children who are jealous of other siblings’ favor or status in the family may turn to sexual abuse as a form of retaliation.


Alcohol or Drug Use: These can reduce self-control even more, and are a risk factor for crossing sexual boundaries at any age.  

Additional Resources

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