Thank you so much for this question. Child-on-child sexual abuse (COCSA) can be incredibly difficult to process, especially if you still have a relationship with the person who harmed you. When abuse occurs between children who were once friends, navigating the aftermath can be particularly complex. It is perfectly normal for you to struggle with your feelings towards the other child involved. This is really complicated stuff.
Research indicates that reactions to COCSA can vary widely among survivors, influenced by factors such as age, developmental stage, and the nature of the abuse itself. It's not uncommon for survivors to experience conflicting emotions after experiencing of this type of abuse, including feelings of confusion, betrayal, and even a desire to maintain a friendship with the child who harmed them. This complexity stems from the inherent innocence and vulnerability of childhood friendships juxtaposed with the trauma of abuse.
One reason survivors of childhood sexual abuse may struggle with maintaining or severing a friendship with a friend who caused them harm lies in the often blurred boundaries between perpetrator and friend when harm occurs between children. Unlike abuse perpetrated by adults, where the perpetrator is typically seen as a threat, labeling an experience as sexual abuse when it is perpetrated by another child can often feel less clear. Survivors may struggle to recognize the abuse within the context of childhood exploration or experimentation, making it challenging to label their experiences accurately. Research suggests that children abused by peers have greater difficulty identifying their experiences as abuse compared to those harmed by adults, which can delay help-seeking and exacerbate feelings of guilt and shame while hindering their ability to assert boundaries or seek support.
Societal norms about childhood innocence further complicates things. There is often a reluctance to acknowledge that children are capable of perpetrating sexual abuse, leading to disbelief and minimization of survivors' experiences. One thing that is also important to mention that adds to the complexity of this question is that often children who engage in sexual abuse towards other children have a history of victimization themselves, highlighting the interconnected nature of trauma and its impact on behavior. Understanding this dynamic can help contextualize the experiences of both survivors and children who cause harm, emphasizing the importance of trauma-informed interventions and support for all parties.
So...back to your question. How can you navigate these complex emotions and relationships in the aftermath of COCSA?
First and foremost, honor your feelings and prioritize your own well-being and safety. Does it feel safe and supportive to maintain this friendship now that you have grown up? If so, perhaps it is okay for you to stay friends with them. Does this friendship still bring up trauma within you or does it negatively impact your wellbeing? If so, you may need to set boundaries with the person who harmed you, seek support from trusted adults or professionals, or engage in therapeutic interventions tailored to address the unique challenges of COCSA.
I would recommend confiding in someone you trust about your experience and its effects. This can aid in understanding your feelings towards the person who harmed you and deciding the future of your relationship. Whether you opt to share your emotions with the individual who harmed you or not, it's crucial to express your feelings in safe spaces—be it anger, sadness, or confusion. All of these emotions are valid and you deserve to get the help you need to process them.
To sum up this discussion, it's perfectly normal for you to experience complicated feelings towards a child that harmed you. It is also okay to stay friends with them if that feels most supportive for you at this time, whatever your reasoning for that may be. You are the expert of your own experience and you can change your mind about this relationship at any time.
Thank you again for this tough question. We are here to support you.