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Peer Abuse




Peer Abuse
In some cases of child abuse the alleged perpetrator will also be a child.

In a situation where child abuse is alleged to have been carried out by another child, the child protection procedures should be adhered to for both the victim and the alleged abuser; that is, it should be considered a child care and protection issue for both children.

All abusers must be held accountable for their behavior and work must be done to ensure that abusers take responsibility for their behavior and acknowledge that the behavior is unacceptable.

Victim's Welfare
If there is any conflict of interest between the welfare of the alleged abuser and the victim, the victim's welfare is of paramount importance.

Abuse Behavior by Children
Abusive behavior which is perpetrated by children must be taken seriously. It is known that some adult abusers begin abusing during childhood and adolescence, that significant numbers will have suffered abuse themselves and that the abuse is likely to become progressively more serious. Early referral and intervention is therefore essential.

Early intervention and Treatment
Children who are abusive towards other children require comprehensive assessment and therapeutic intervention by skilled child care professionals. Treatment is more likely to be effective if begun early in the child's life.

Sexual Abuse by Children and Young People
Research shows that a large degree of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by teenagers. Obviously it is important that behavior of this nature is not ignored. However it is also very important that the different types of behavior are clearly identified and that no young person is wrongly labeled 'a child abuser', without a clear analysis of the particular behavior.

One can identify four categories of behavior which would warrant attention:

1. normal sexual exploration;

2. abuse reactive behavior;

3. sexually obsessive behavior;

4. abusive behavior by adolescents and young people.

1. Normal sexual exploration
This could consist of naive play between two children which involves the exploration of their sexuality. This type of behavior may be prompted by exchanges between children such as: "you show me yours and I'll show you mine". One of the key aspects of this behavior is the tone of it. There should not be any coercive or dominating aspects to this behavior. Usually, there is no need for child protection intervention of any kind in this type of situation.

2. Abuse reactive behavior
In this situation, one child who has been abused already, acts out the same behavior on another child. While this is serious behavior and needs to be treated as such, the emphasis should be on addressing the victim needs of the child perpetrator.

3. Sexually obsessive behavior
In this type of situation the children may engage in sexually compulsive behavior. An example of this would be excessive masturbation which may well be meeting some other emotional need. Most children masturbate at some point in their lives. However, where children are in care or in families where care and attention is missing, they may have extreme comfort needs that are not being met and may move from masturbation to excessive interest or curiosity in sex, which takes on excessive or compulsive aspects. These children may not have been sexually abused but they may be extremely needy and may need very specific help in addressing these needs.

4. Abusive Behavior by Adolescents and Young People
Behavior that is abusive will have elements of domination, coercion or bribery and certainly secrecy. The fact that the behavior is carried out by an adolescent, for example does not, in itself, make it ‘experimentation’. However, if there is no age difference between the two children or no difference in status, power or intellect, then one could argue that this is indeed experimentation. On the other hand, if the adolescent is aged thirteen and the child is aged three, this gap in itself creates an abusive quality which should be taken seriously.

Treatment Services for Victims
As in all cases of child abuse, it is essential to respond to the needs of the children who are abused by their peers. Each category of child abuse may have different dynamics and effects. There is no single approach to the treatment of child abuse so each individual case will require its own unique intervention. Appropriate support and services should be provided to the child and his or her parents or caregivers as quickly as possible.

In the case of child sexual abuse, treatment approaches may include individual treatment and group therapy for the child or adolescent. Individual treatment allows the child or adolescent the opportunity to give his or her account of the abuse; talking about the abusive experience can often be an important first step. Group therapy offers the child or adolescent a supportive setting and an opportunity to address his/ or her sense of isolation and secrecy.

There is a high probability that future abuse can be prevented if early intervention takes place. Treatment is more likely to be effective if begun early in the child's life. Therefore it is essential to refer concerns about peer abuse immediately to the relevant health authority. Health authorities should establish appropriate treatment programs to cater for children who engage in abusive behavior with other children.

Impact of Allegation on Child and Family
It should be anticipated that an allegation of abuse will have a detrimental impact on relationships between the alleged abuser, his parents and other family members. A negative impact on other social relationships such as with peers and neighbors should also be anticipated. As a result, the child and his family may experience isolation and in some situations victimization following an allegation of abuse. The child's parents will need support and advice to help them understand the abusive behavior and to deal with the situation. Active participation and commitment by parents can be an important factor in the success of treatment and may be crucial in influencing the general outcome of the case. It is therefore essential to provide adequate support services to the child and his family throughout the assessment and treatment processes.

Bullying can be defined as repeated aggression be it verbal, psychological or physical which is conducted by an individual or group against others. It is behavior which is intentionally aggravating and intimidating and occurs mainly among children in social environments such as schools. It includes behaviors such as teasing, taunting, threatening, hitting or extortion by one or more pupils against a victim. The more extreme forms of bullying behavior, when perpetrated by adults rather than children, would be regarded as physical or emotional abuse. However other major forms of child abuse such as neglect and sexual abuse are not normally comprehended by the term bullying.

It is recognized that bullying in school is an increasing problem. It is imperative that school management boards should have in place a policy to deal with bullying, and that teachers are aware of this policy and of procedural guidelines to deal with bullying. In situations where the incident is serious and where the behavior is regarded as potentially abusive, the school should consult the relevant health authority and law enforcement with a view to drawing up an appropriate response.

[With special thanks to the National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2004
Irish Department of Health and Children]


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Child AbuseWatch (abusewatch.net).