Understanding Trauma & Violence


When I was a child my neighbor (also a child) showed me sexual things. I only know it happened because I have flash memories of it and her asking if it felt good. I don’t remember ever saying no, or stop, or I don’t like it. After we moved, I was really hypersexual and would masturbate a lot. I would cry and feel terrible about myself because I thought it was wrong. Would this be considered child-on-child sexual abuse (COCSA) or am I just being dramatic??


Thank you so much for this question. I want to start by saying that you are not being dramatic. Sexual activities between children can be extremely confusing to process. We have actually received many similar questions to this in the past, so we created a blog post to share what we know about this type of abuse. Take a look at that here: Child-on-child Sexual Abuse (COCSA): Frequently Asked Questions and Considerations ~ Making Waves (ourwave.org)

As we mention in that blog, unlike abuse perpetrated by adults, where the perpetrator is typically seen as a predator, labeling an experience as sexual abuse when another child perpetrates it 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. 

If you are asking this question in the legal sense, definitions of childhood sexual abuse vary by state. Childhood sexual abuse is generally defined as any sexual activity with a child where consent is not or cannot be given. It can involve a wide range of behaviors including fondling, penetration, and exposing a child to sexual material. Regarding whether it can occur between children, some legal definitions of sexual abuse specify that the perpetrator must be an adult, but instances of sexual behavior between children can still be harmful, particularly when a child uses force, coercion, or manipulation against another child. These types of situations may require intervention and support from adults or the authorities.

Something else that is worth mentioning here is sexual shame and how deeply ingrained it is in our society, stemming from cultural, religious, and familial beliefs that label certain sexual behaviors as taboo or immoral. You mentioned shame around masturbation and exploring your sexuality as a child and I want to unpack that a bit. Masturbating as a child can be perfectly healthy and normal, however it is very common to have feelings of shame surrounding it. Regardless of whether or not the shame you feel stems from your experiences with your neighbor or not, I do want to talk a bit about how that might play into your processing.

Sexual shame can manifest as feelings of guilt, embarrassment, or inadequacy surrounding one's sexual experiences and desires. Society's narrow definition of acceptable sexual behavior can exacerbate this shame, particularly in instances of experimentation or non-heteronormative expressions of sexuality. It is perfectly normal to explore your sexuality when you are a child, however, children who do engage in experimentation may internalize societal disapproval, leading to feelings of shame and self-criticism. Fears of judgment or rejection from others can further reinforce these negative perceptions, creating a cycle of secrecy and shame.

Only you know your situation and what you experienced, but is perfectly normal to experiment when you are young. Just because you feel shame reflecting on it as an adult, does not inherently mean it was wrong at that stage of your development. On the other hand, it is important to understand what COCSA is so you can assess if what happened to you was abuse. As we mentioned, COCSA generally involves any non-consensual sexual activity between minors where one child uses force, coercion, or manipulation against another child. If that resonates with what you experienced, then perhaps you did experience COCSA.

Regardless of how you define it, if reflecting on sexual experiences that happened to you when you were a child bring you distress, you deserve to seek support and resources.  Prioritize your well-being throughout this process and make decisions that feel right for you.  You deserve support, validation, and healing regardless of how you define what you have been through. 

Thank you for this question. You are not alone.

Safety Exit