The effects of abuse history on sexually intrusive behavior by children: An analysis of child justice records

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Objectives: A commonly cited risk factor for sexually intrusive behavior (SIB) among children and adolescents is a history of abuse. Based on a large and non-clinical nationwide sample of children who were investigated as abuse victims and suspects of SIBs in Israel over a decade, the present study examines the rate of abuse history among child suspects who have admitted SIBs. In addition, this study compares some personal and family characteristics as well as selected aspects of SIBs reported by children with and without a history of abuse. Abuse history is then used to predict the nature of SIBs after controlling for other predictors. Methods: National data files of the investigation of alleged child victims and child suspects aged 14 or under were electronically merged, allowing the identification of a sub-group of suspects, out of all suspects, who had a record of child abuse. Using only confirmed cases of boys with SIBs, child suspects with a record of abuse were compared to the larger group of child suspects with no record of abuse. Results: Of 3,554 child suspects of SIBs, 345 or 9.7% had a formal record of abuse. Boys with a record of abuse engaged in SIBs at a younger age; were more likely to display mental disabilities; more often belonged to large size, single-parent, low SES, and immigrant families and were more likely to be removed from home to alternative care than boys with no record of abuse. The nature of SIBs varied across the groups, with victim-suspects more likely than their counterparts to act repeatedly, and to do so alone rather than in the presence of others. Victim-suspects were more likely to involve in SIBs with younger children, with siblings, and with unrelated children. Most aspects of SIBs were predicted by abuse history after controlling for other predictors, with some differences between age groups being evident. Conclusions: Although abuse history is uncommon among children displaying SIBs in this sample, it seems to affect the involvement of children at a younger age in more severe SIBs, posing a higher risk to other children. Practical implications: The low rate of abuse history among boys with SIBs suggests that clinical assessors of SIBs in children should not assume that these children have been victims of abuse or that abuse is a necessary component in the development of SIBs. This implies that the exploration of past abuse in the assessment of children with SIBs is not always relevant and that trauma-related components in the treatment of these children should be selective. As past-abuse is less related to SIB's for older children, the clinical focus on abuse is even less relevant for older children. However, when boys with SIBs have been past-victims, they seem to be in greater need for treatment than other boys with SIBs. Moreover, the dynamics of SIBs by past victims should raise more concern for older than for younger children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-49
Number of pages10
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Abuse history
  • Children
  • SIB

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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