CATS: Center for Assault Treatment Services
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Lesson Four: (Continued)

What is the difference between children’s “normal” sex play
and sexual abuse?

The lack of contemporary normative data regarding sexual activity among young children makes differentiating between normal sex play and sexual abuse difficult. It is clear, however, that very young children without exposure or experience do not usually have substantial or detailed knowledge about sexual activity, and that the child who exhibits developmentally inappropriate behaviors has probably either been exposed to that behavior or has experienced it. Exposure may have occurred directly (by observing people engaged in those activities or by having personally been involved) or indirectly (through TV or pictures in a magazine).

Factors to be considered in addition to developmental appropriateness include the dynamics of the situation, e.g.,

• Was coercion, threat, intimidation or force involved?

• Were age and size of the children involved similar?

Even in cases involving children of similar age and size it is possible that the activity is abusive if threat, force or coercion is present.

Differences in emotional maturity and status must also be evaluated. For example, a child who has been delegated the authority of “babysitter” by parents has a distinct status or power advantage over other children, even if the age differential is not large.

When do you report sexual activity between minors?
Many assessment questions must be considered when professionals are presented with situations in which children are engaging in sexual activity. It is important to understand not only the child’s knowledge base but also the sources of that knowledge. In cases of this type, it is the mandated reporter’s responsibility to merely report their suspicions and concerns. The trained professional from the reporting agency (LAPD or DCFS) holds the responsibility of further investigation and clarification. For additional information on sexual activity between minors, see Appendix 4.

What is NOT child abuse?
It is not considered child abuse by the California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act if:

Pregnancy - This alone is not considered child abuse.
Past abuse of a child who is an adult at the time that they tell someone.
A positive drug screen at the time of delivery of a baby is not by itself considered child abuse.
Two children fight.
A police officer uses “reasonable force” to stop fighting that may hurt people or property or to get a weapon from a teen.
Sexual activity between two minors - A minor is someone who is 17 years or younger. Even though it is not considered child abuse, it is illegal for two minors to have sex, even if they willingly agreed to have sex with each other.

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