||Sexually Aggressive Children: Coming to Understand Them
||Sharon K. Araji
||Sage Publications, ©1997
2455 Teller Road
Thousand Oaks, CA 91320
$48.00 (c); $22.95 (p)
The goal of this 246-page book is to collect in one place the available published and unpublished information about sexually aggressive children 12 years old and younger, and to expand on this information by offering a synthesis and critical analysis of the information reviewed in each chapter. The six chapters are organized around such topics as distinguishing normal from sexually abusive and aggressive behaviors, the demographic and psychological characteristics of sexually aggressive children, family, extrafamilial, and situational risk factors, theories explaining children's sexually aggressive behaviors, treatment approaches, and the need for a systemwide response. The book ends with a good, although selective, set of references and a usable index.
The book begins with an excellent introduction by William N. Friedrich, who warns of the dangers of borrowing from adult offenders to understand sexually aggressive children. Friedrich believes that most sexual aggression in children reflects aberrations in parenting and is related to sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological rejection, emotional neglect, or some combination of these. He observes that only a very small subset of sexually aggressive children carry with them the features that are observed in adolescent and adult offenders.
The first chapter begins with the need to distinguish children's sexually abusive behaviors from those viewed as normative. But, although the goal is to avoid criminalizing or pathologizing the child's sexual behaviors, much of the book does just that. In several places it is assumed that there is a
"cycle of abuse" where sexually victimized children are likely to molest younger and more vulnerable children. The empirical support, however, for the hypothesized cycle of intergenerational sexual abuse is weak. In general, the book has too many theories and not enough empirical facts.
The author believes that there is a lack of awareness over the extent of the problem, coupled with denial and minimization when parents and the public are confronted with sexually aggressive children. She argues that it is important to recognize, label, and treat children with sexually abusive behaviors. However, she also cautions against policies that result in situations such as the 6-year-old boy who was labeled a sexual harasser and suspended from school for kissing a classmate on her cheek.
This is a useful book in that it brings together the available literature on sexually aggressive children, but it must be read carefully in terms of what is theory and opinion and what is empirically supported.
Reviewed by LeRoy G. Schultz, Emeritus Professor, West Virginia University.