How to recognize and prevent
child sexual abuse.

  The ND Alliance for Children’s Justice is providing this guide in an effort to educate adults on how to recognize the signs of an older child or adolescent exhibiting sexual behavior problems. These behaviors may be an indication that they are at-risk to sexually abuse another child.

This publication will also help you to recognize situations and environments that put children at risk, and what action to take if a problem is suspected. The best way to prevent a younger child from being sexually abused is to recognize and seek help for certain behaviors and attitudes in youth who may be at risk to abuse. Supervision and monitoring of younger children as well as older children and adolescents is equally important for the prevention of sexual abuse.

The Alliance is a multi-disciplinary task force of North Dakota professionals and parents whose vision is that all adults will feel equal responsibility for the care and protection of all children. The final goal being that no child in this state will experience any form of child sexual abuse...ever.

Our society pays a high price for the tragedy of child abuse. Billions of dollars are spent on medical and mental health treatment, social services, education, and lost productivity. Child abuse victims are also more likely to be in abusive relationships.


At least 90% of sexually abused children are victimized by someone they know, trust, like or love; parent, step-parent, parent’s significant other, older brother or sister, family or neighborhood friend, teacher, coach, babysitter, or another trusted person the child may be acquainted with.
Finklehor, 1994.
According to studies, 30-50% of abusers are under the age of 18. Research has shown that up to 90% of children with sexual behavior problems were also victims of sexual abuse.
Rogers and Tremain, 1984.
Offenders often genuinely like children and may choose youngsters who are vulnerable or suffer from health issues, self-esteem problems, or weak parental supervision.
One in four girls and one in seven boys are sexually molested before the age of 18.
Research shows that 43% of sexual assaults against children ages six and under are attributable to juvenile abusers.

What is Child Sexual Abuse?


Child sexual abuse is any sexual activity with a child by an adult, an adolescent, or an older child. Sexual abuse can be categorized as non-touching or touching offenses. Remember, sexual abuse is NEVER the child’s fault.


Indecent exposure (Peeping or flashing)
Frank discussions about sexual acts designed
to shock the child or arouse a child’s
Behaviors such as voyeurism, exposure to sexual materials or letting a child hear or watch sexual acts


Fondling or any kind of sexual touching
Intercourse, oral sex, and/or anal
Using a child to create pornographic pictures or videos

Children must be protected against any behavior that appears to be exploitive, regardless of who may be engaging in or condoning the behavior.



Child sexual abuse happens to children from all walks of life.
Sexual abuse has a way of continuing from one generation to the next. The child of someone who was previously abused is at greater risk of being victimized.
Attentive and loving supervision of children prevents emotional vulnerability. Vulnerable children are more susceptible to the attentions of abusers.
Sexual abuse can affect people for the rest of their lives and sometimes even cause them to perpetrate abuse upon others.
Awareness is the first step in the prevention of child abuse.

If every adult takes responsibility for the care and protection of children, we can make North Dakota free of child sexual abuse.


Who is a Sex Abuser?

  A sexual abuser may be anyone; male or female, young or old, educated or uneducated, employed or unemployed. In most cases, the abuser is someone the child knows. This is often the most difficult part for parents to believe—that someone known and trusted or someone in their own family would take sexual advantage of a child.

Some youthful offenders have been sexually or physically abused by a parent, relative, or friend. They may feel confused, unloved, or angry about their prior abusive treatment. Sometimes they are not mature enough to fully understand the consequences of their own sexual feelings and behaviors. Often, the adolescent abuser doesn’t have satisfying relationships with others his or her own age.

Sexual abusers are most effective with those children whose needs are not met.

It’s Probably Someone You Know


Sexual abusers are very rarely strangers to their victims. Remember, at least 90% of sexually abused children are victimized by someone they know, trust, like or love.

Warning children to stay away from strangers does little to protect them from sexual abuse in their own home by people they know and trust.

Children need to be taught about situations to avoid and be concerned about, not people. Adults and children often cannot tell the sex offenders from the good people in their lives.

Children must be taught that it doesn’t matter how well you know someone or if they are a stranger. What matters is what the person asks the child to do. Over 85% of all danger to children can be prevented by giving children the right knowledge of how to react to unsafe situations.


What Should I Watch For When Adolescents or Older Children are Around Younger Children?

Excessive attention to a particular child. Gifts or money given for no apparent reason.
“My 4 year old was sexually molested by my 17 year old niece. I wish I had paid attention to all the gifts she was giving my child. Maybe I could have caught it sooner.” Mother of 4 year old victim
Takes children to secret places or plays secret games.

Shares alcohol or drugs with children when adults are not around.
Finds or creates opportunities to spend time alone with a particular child.
Does not respect the privacy of a child. May walk in while a child is changing clothes or in the bathroom.
Regularly offers to baby-sit or take children on outings.
Tells you that he or she does not want to be left alone with a child.
Does not have any close friends who are the same age.
“Almost overnight, my 16 year old had lost interest in former friends and was hanging out with an 11 year old neighborhood boy.” Mother of abusing youth
Talks about the bodies or maturity of a child or makes fun of a child’s body parts.
Is overly interested in the sexuality of children.
Shows sexual material to younger children.
Encourages silence and secrets with a child.
“I knew something was going on, but I just didn’t figure it out in time to prevent it.” Mother of young victim

Makes obscene telephone calls or exposes his or her genitals to younger children.
Any one of these behaviors does not mean that the youth is in danger of abusing. But if you see a pattern or something that makes you uncomfortable, consider talking to the older child or finding someone who can comfortably talk to him or her about what is going on. Trust your gut feelings, ask some questions, and get help. Your first responsibility is to protect the younger child who may be targeted. Secondly, to get help for the youth who is exhibiting sexual behavior problems.

I Want to Prevent Sexual Abuse
from Happening in My Family.

  Break the silence surrounding the topic of sexuality. Healthy sexuality and attitudes can be taught to children beginning at a very young age and reinforced and discussed throughout the time of child development. It is important to talk about sexual values and rules.

Teach very young children the correct terms for their body parts. Use the terms penis, testicles, vagina, and breasts. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggest you do this as early as 18 months of age.

Teach children that touching is never a secret. If someone touches their body and asks them to keep it a secret, they need to tell what happened. Teach them respect for their bodies as well as the bodies of others.

Teach and demonstrate empathy. Let older children and adolescents know that sexual touching can be very hurtful and confusing for children. Teach them that it is against the law to sexually touch other children.


Where Do I Get Help for a Friend or Family Member who’s Sexual Behavior concerns me?

Contact your local medical clinic for a referral to a practitioner of mental health services.
Contact one of the eight human service centers in North Dakota (Fargo, Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Jamestown, Bismarck, Minot, Dickinson, Williston) and ask to be referred to a therapist who counsels children and families experiencing sexual behavior problems or abuse.
Contact your child’s school counselor for guidance or a referral.

As adults, it is our responsibility to stop the abuse and protect children who may be targeted for abuse, but also to help the youth who has or may abuse. Stay alert to what may be going on in your home as well as the homes of friends and family. Keeping abuse or suspected abuse a secret is what abusers and survivors say allows it to continue from generation to generation.


Contact the Alliance for Children’s Justice at:
Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota
ND Toll Free—1-800-403-9932

This publication is made possible by funding from ND Child Protection Services



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