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Child Abuse Negl. 1999 Jun;23(6):601-21.

Developmental and etiological characteristics of children with sexual behavior problems: treatment implications.

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Queensland Health, Child Protection Project, Brisbane, Australia.



Baseline data are reported on the demographics, psychological adjustment, victimization, and perpetration histories of 127 6- to 12-year-old children who have engaged in developmentally unexpected sexual behaviors. Information regarding the children's caregivers, and their extended families, is also presented. Data were collected during intake of the families into a longitudinal treatment outcome study.


A comprehensive battery of psychometric devices and a structured interview were completed with 127 children with sexual behavior problems and their primary caregivers at intake to a treatment outcome study.


More than half of the children engaging in developmentally unexpected sexual behaviors had been abused both sexually and physically by more than two different perpetrators. One-third of the people who had maltreated these children were less than 18 years old. These children had acted out against an average of two other children. High levels of distress in the children and their caregivers were evident across a number of psychometric and historical variables.


Children with sexual behavior problems exhibited a number of functional impairments commonly associated with maltreatment, including learning and psychiatric disorders. Their caregivers and families manifested several characteristics that deter children's recovery from maltreatment, including an impaired attachment between parent and child. The scope of the children's problems requires that treatment extend beyond the therapist's office to include schools and other agencies or individuals with whom the child and families have regular contact.

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