Is that normal? “Detect and prevent sexual assault among children

Ulli friend

Sexual violence happens in many constellations and contexts – and often also among children. This issue is receiving increasing attention, but it’s actually not a new topic. Sexual assault has always occurred among children, but largely unnoticed. Only in recent years has it been possible to discuss this topic professionally and to develop approaches for recognizing, intervening and preventing it.

The majority of today’s sexual assaults took place 20, 30 or 50 years ago, but were not problematized and designated as such. Much of what used to be “normal” among children is now called violence. This also applies to the non-sexual area: What we sanction today as an incident of violence, report to the school authorities, work through in discussions with parents and flank it with pedagogical measures, namely when a student blows the nose of another, was the normal behavior 30 to 50 years ago Boys’ everyday life in school or school. What we now call sexual assault and respond accordingly if, for example, For example, taking a boy under the skirt of a girl against her will was formerly considered fun, a behavior typical of boys, which at most caused a critical look from adults, but mostly a wink. This means that the attacks have changed less than the pedagogical sensitivity to them.

We now know that prevention of sexual abuse begins here: If a child suffers a sexual assault but subsequently experiences that such an incident is not overlooked or trivialized, then this experience provides some protection against sexual abuse. The child learns that its limits must not be simply violated, that such attacks are wrong that one does not have to get used to. It also learns that getting help is worthwhile because there are adults who are willing to protect their sexual self-determination. All strengthening messages against sexual violence in further life.

In addition, professional intervention is always a piece of crime prevention. Because if you stop a child who is overpowering, they learn that such behavior is not fun, but wrong, and therefore causes trouble. This also gives it the chance to stop doing this. However, if you overlook your behavior and experience no clear limits, there is a risk that the child will grow into a sexually assaulting behavior pattern and then commit punishable sexual assault in adolescence and adulthood.

It is crucial for the preventive effect that sexual abuse is reacted to from the beginning, even with very young children. Especially in children of kindergarten age, sexual assaults occur frequently, because it is the age at which children have a variety of experiences with physicality and so-called doctor games. In contrast to school age, there are significantly more opportunities for sexual exploration and thus also more opportunities for sexual border violations. It is the phase when children learn not only through self-experience, but also clear messages and orientation for the area of ​​sexuality need. Young children should not learn that sexual interests can be asserted with power or that power needs can be acted out using sexual means. Pedagogy should offer an alternative to the sexualized messages of the media society that are everywhere.

Pedagogically appropriate terminology was still missing at the beginning of the technical discussion. Descriptions such as "doctor games that may get out of hand", "sexual curiosity that may go too far" or even "children who abuse others" fluctuated between insecurity and inappropriateness. “Sexual abuse among children” has meanwhile become the term against “sexual abuse among children” because it makes it clear that the dynamics of what is happening cannot be compared. It also promotes the willingness of educators and parents to open up to the topic. Because if one speaks of abuse, one also speaks of perpetrators and victims instead of appropriately affected and assaulting children. Experience shows that terms such as victim and perpetrator easily create a defense against all those involved and the tendency to play down the incidents (or look away straight away) or this leads to dramatizations and demonizations that make a meaningful pedagogical reaction to child misconduct impossible.

The aim of the pedagogical approach is to protect affected girls and boys from sexual assault and to develop and implement effective measures for abusive children. In contrast to sexual abuse, the children involved do not have to be permanently separated from one another. Rather, dealing with sexual assaults among children should help the children involved to continue to meet. Because the pedagogical staff have the opportunity to influence and control children who are overwhelming, which they can never do with adult perpetrators. Only in exceptional cases is it necessary to permanently remove the child who is the victim of the group of children.

Is this an assault or is (harmless) sexual activity?

Educators must be able to answer this crucial question before they take the concrete steps to deal with the subject. Some examples:

(1) Two-year-old Nelli is brought into the playhouse by Max and Noah, both four. They take her diaper off and look at her genitals.

(2) The two four-year-old girls Mareike and Serpil allow each other to rub their labia.

(3) Most children in the group have respect for the five-year-old Juri because he is very strong. If you don’t want to be a coward, you have to lick your penis.

(4) The two three-year-olds Marie and Yusuf are interested in comparing the differences in their urethral openings. Marie enthusiastically "checks" whether the position at Yusuf can be locked, which he is dismayed by.

In practice, there is great uncertainty here, with the result that some sexual activity is unnecessarily prevented, but often attacks are overlooked. Most of the conflicts between educators and parents – and the topic of sexual assault among children is a subject of enormous conflict – has its cause here: namely that educators are unable to make a professional assessment of where child sexuality and sexual ends Attacks begin, but argue with personal attitudes and feelings. And so they hardly differ from their parents, who would, however, rely on the professionalism of the teachers. However, this uncertainty on the part of professional pedagogues is not a personal failure, but has structural causes: To date, future educators are hardly prepared for these situations and the associated technical requirements during their training.

Basic knowledge about child sexuality and the definition of sexual assault among children is essential:

A child is sexually assaulted if the child who is the victim enforces sexual acts or if the child in question tolerates them or involuntarily participates in them. Often, a power gap is used between the children who are involved and who are affected, e.g. pressure is applied through promises, recognition, threats or physical violence.

When sexual assault occurs by force, when an affected child protests or complains, it is usually not a problem to identify involuntary behavior. However, if a child appears to volunteer and even insists it, but the teachers still have a different impression, they need a great deal of sensitivity and knowledge of the group dynamics to find out what makes the child compliant. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of adults to assess whether the situation is voluntary or not. One should not always rely on the fact that even affected children find the situation in order. In case (1) there was no sign of violence and Nelli showed no defense. But a look at possible power differences is helpful for the professional assessment. Abusive children usually choose inferior children in some way and use the existing power gap to manipulate involuntary behavior. Typical power gaps are: age difference, gender, group status, social status, intelligence / disability, migration background.

Due to the young age, Nelli was clearly inferior to the two boys. What the two wanted from her might not have been clear to her at all. That younger children unquestionably obey older ones because they admire or fear them is a familiar phenomenon that means that effective consent is not possible at all. Case 1 is therefore a sexual assault. The situation is different in case 2, where two children agree on the touch of their genitals almost at eye level, without being persuaded or otherwise built up pressure. Sexual activity can be assumed here.

If children practice adult sexuality, the definition is disregarded: if children engage in sexual intercourse or similar acts of adult sexuality, boys put their penis in another child’s buttocks or vagina, let them lick their penis, lick a girl’s vagina or not. Ä., It always represents a sexual assault.

There is no need to discuss voluntariness and power differences, because these actions fundamentally harm the children involved and do not belong to childish sexuality. The own quality of the sensual experience of children is thereby restricted or even ended, experiences that simply overwhelm the child’s psyche. In case 3, Juri takes advantage of his authority in the group because of his physical superiority. He is even in the position of power to define who is a coward. But even without this background, it is an assault because licking the penis is not an age-appropriate sexual act.

Sexual assaults among children are usually a form of sexual violence because they often have a sexual motive, but this is enforced with power (see Case 1) or even completely overlaid with a power motive as in Case 3: Yuri strives for superiority by sexually devaluing other children. Exuberant sexual assaults are an exception. We are not talking about sexual violence here because the child who is the victim of violence is motivated solely by sexual curiosity and no interest in power. There are situations like in case 4, in which very young children violate the boundaries of others in the context of sexual activities and enforce their will without hesitation because their age makes it difficult for them to control their impulses and to respect the needs of others. Sexual assaults in exuberance are rare. However, they do not mean the all-clear: As in other areas, children must learn to respect the limits of others!

Professional handling: speak to the children

First of all, the child concerned deserves the undivided attention of the pedagogues. To do this, you have to control the strong impulse to talk to the overwhelming child immediately, e.g. to vent his anger. In order to be able to respond appropriately to sexual assault, one has to adopt a partisan stance for the child concerned. Sentences like "always include two" have lost nothing here because they assume that the affected child shares responsibility. It needs that emotional Care by an adult who can report the incident and who believes, consoles and shows that the subject is not a nuisance. Questions about why it did not fight back must be avoided. They convey to the child that they have behaved incorrectly and awaken feelings of guilt. It should be clearly stated that the child who has attacked you behaved incorrectly and that you will take care that this no longer occurs.

The assaulting child is then confronted with his behavior. Questions about whether what you have heard so far or why it behaved in this way should be avoided, because overwhelming children feel invited to deny the situation, present it differently or justify themselves. But all this delays the process of insight and compassion – the prerequisite for an authentic change in behavior. Experience shows that affected children have no reason to think of attacks, but children who have attacks have every reason to deny them. The encroaching behavior must be assessed and strictly prohibited in the future. In order for the child to change its behavior, it needs support and not punishment – but it does need a counterpart who leaves no doubt as to its determination. This should convey to the child that one does not reject his person, but rejects his behavior and that he is trusted to change that. If one comes to the assessment that this serious conversation has left a lasting impression on the victim of the assault, so that he will not commit any further sexual assault, it can be sufficient as a measure. This is particularly possible with younger children and children who have noticed this for the first time. In most cases, however, it is necessary to develop further measures that prevent the child who is being attacked from engaging in the abuse.

Measures against child sexual assault

  • serve to protect affected children;
  • aim at behavior change through insight and restrictions (different punishments: they should deter);
  • restrict the overbearing child – not the affected one!
  • are limited so that the behavior change is worthwhile;
  • must be carried out and checked consistently;
  • therefore need communication and consensus in the team or college;
  • preserve the dignity of the overbearing child;
  • are decided by the educators – not by parents or affected children.

In case 1, after a conversation (which was conducted separately because of the assumption of responsibility) with both boys, the following measure could be suitable: one week of playhouse ban, another week they have to inform the teacher if they want to visit the playhouse, the toilet or another retreat. At the end of the second week, the children are praised for having followed the measure and asked if they can now control themselves or need further control. If they have withdrawn from the measure, it will be extended and the radius of the children may be restricted even more.

Communication with the parents of the children involved is indispensable for the professional handling. Transparency is the top priority. When parents of affected children have the impression that the incident is being swept under the carpet, they usually react very emotionally. They identify with their child and fear that their child’s interests should be sacrificed to the institution’s good reputation. Parents of overreaching children are similarly upset if they hear rumors of their child’s behavior, if all other parents already knew about them and the institution did not consider it necessary to inform them. If there is a lack of communication, a facility runs the risk of losing the trust of parents, which cannot be regained quickly. There is one exception to the involvement of parents: does the child exist? suspicion, Parents should not be informed that the child is experiencing sexual violence at home, but a specialist advice center must be consulted.

Having a conversation with the group of children about sexual assault and the measures imposed means using an opportunity for prevention. Because the children learn in this way that you can not get away with such behavior, but you can expect consequences. And they also learn that the educators at this facility take their responsibilities seriously, so it makes sense to complain or get help. However, the privacy of the affected child must not be violated again by talking to the group. It is enough to name the children involved and to describe the nature of the attack. Sensitized by the incident, one should discuss rules with the children, which provide orientation for physical handling, touching, being naked and cuddling.

Further literature on this subject by Ulli Freund

  • Parents guide of the initiative “dare you!”, Download here .
  • Compact knowledge “Sexual assaults among children” from the Baden-Württemberg Youth Protection Campaign can be found here.
  • Freund, U. / Riedel-Breidenstein, D. (2004): Sexual Abuses among Children – Handbook on Prevention and Intervention. Mebes & Noack


Published in early childhood, magazine of the German League for the Child, edition 3/2010. Image courtesy.


Ulli Freund, born in 1962, educator,

Freelance consultant, specialist advisor and author on the topics

  • Sexual abuse among children
  • Educational prevention of sexual abuse
  • Protection concepts for educational institutions


Created July 10, 2015, last modified July 10, 2015


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