Dear Abby: I am writing to you in response to "Not on My Watch" (Sept. 19), about the little boy who repeatedly exposes himself to other children. While correcting this behavior to protect the other children is something the parents and other concerned adults in this child's life should be doing, there may be more going on here that needs to be addressed. Children who have been victims of sexual abuse can exhibit overtly sexualized behavior that goes beyond typical curiosity or age-appropriate sexual development.
There are several issues happening with this boy that bother me. The repeated exposure of his private parts to others is the first. While this behavior is not unusual in young children and can be a normal part of sexual curiosity, the compulsive continuation and frequency of his behavior raises red flags. He also mentioned keeping a "secret." This is a common tool used by people who abuse children. The manner in which he interacted with "Not on My Watch's" daughter sounds a lot like an interaction between an adult abuser and a child – something he may have been mimicking.
Young children who are sexually abused may not have the developmental or verbal capabilities to disclose what is happening. Often it is through behavioral or emotional signs that we discover the abuse.
While it is important to protect the children this boy interacts with, the more appropriate response to this situation would be to calmly explain to him why his behavior is inappropriate, along with a discussion to find out if he has witnessed this behavior in others or if he has "secrets" with anyone.
If he discloses something during the discussion, it should be immediately reported to the local child protective services and/or police. And if his behavior continues, it would be best to seek professional intervention. – Judy at Child Advocacy Center
Dear Judy: Your letter echoes the sentiments of the majority of responses I received about 5-year-old "Billy." Thank you for articulating it so clearly. Read on:
Dear Abby: My wife witnessed a similar scenario last year during a play date. A 4-year-old girl was observed putting her hands down the pants of boys her age. Initially we thought it was normal curiosity; then we suspected she might be a victim. The authorities investigated, and it turned out that her male teenage cousin had been abusing her. – Concerned Dad
Dear Abby: I am a psychiatric nurse who works with children who have suffered various types of abuse. This kind of repeated behavior is a big indication that Billy is being sexually abused himself.
The fact that he wants to keep it "secret" indicates that it is a learned behavior. That his parents are "burying their heads in the sand" may indicate that they know about the abuse or are the abusers themselves.
That boy should be taken to see a doctor for a full evaluation, and a call to social services is in order. The call can be anonymous. It is better to be safe than sorry in this case. – Nurse Who Cares in Ohio
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.