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Children with Sexual Behavior Problems

Posted Jun 24 2009 12:00am
Children with sexual behavior problems, a broad category including such diverse behaviors as public masturbation, touching others, and aggressive behaviors, are challenging for the adults in their lives. The most recent issue of Child Maltreatment, Vol. 13, #2, May 2008 is devoted to this topic. The issue describes important material regarding assessment, treatment, policy and stereotypes.

I found the material that countered “common knowledge,” most interesting. Do children who have been sexually abused develop sexual behavior problems? Yes, they do have increased rates of sexual behavior problems (SBP), as do other children with other types of trauma. In fact exposure to violence has a much stronger association with SPB’s than does prior sexual abuse. The material makes clear that SBP’s are complex behaviors with multidimensional elements.

The issue is encouraging and supportive of our work. Several articles make the point that including the family in treatment is an important element of efficacious treatment.

The article by Mark Chaffin on policy is very interesting. The perception that youthful sex-offenders are high risk, unique and require special treatment, are homogeneous, and impossible or very difficult to treat turns out to be false. Research shows that children with SBP’s pose a low long-term risk for future child sexual abuse perpetration and sex crimes. For example, for teenage sex offenders the long-term future sex offense rates are between 5% (for those who received treatment) 15% (for those without treatment). For pre-teen children the range is 2% to 10% at ten year follow-up. At ten year follow-up the rate of sex abuse perpetration among those with SBP’s who received treatment was no different than for those children with ADHD. This and other material supports the argument that the policy issue of putting such children on public lists is simply bad policy. Other material shows that children with SBP’s do not require specialized treatment and that generally effective treatment approaches are effective for these children.

There are several other excellent articles in this issue. One describes the impact of various maltreatment experiences on sexualized behaviors. Another describes predictors of SPB’s among children with complex histories of maltreatment. There are two outcome studies and a very well written meta-analysis of treatment for children with SBP’s. Finally, the issue ends with the Report of the ATSA Task Force on Children with Sexual Behavior Problems which describes best practices for the evaluation and treatment of children with SBP’s and various policy recommendations.

In summary, this is an outstanding journal issue and it should be in every clinician’s library.
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