Understanding Trauma & Violence
Meaning Making


Can two younger children (e.g. ages 9-11) consent to sex? I don't believe they can. But if no adult is around to monitor what's going on, how does the child on the receiving end of the other child's behavior (initiated and lead by the other child) classify their experience? If they don't know what they are consenting to, and no isn't an option for them, is this abuse? This was my experience and I struggle so much with accepting what happened as being abuse. But I have all the hallmark signs of having been abused as a child.


I'm so sorry that you experienced this and are struggling with the impact and meaning of it. What you're describing sounds distressing and violating, even though both people involved were children.

You're absolutely right that legally children ages 9-11 cannot meaningfully consent to sex, regardless of whether an adult is present. Children that age are not developmentally capable of understanding or consenting to sexual activity. If one child initiates sexual behaviors and the other child feels unable to refuse or stop what's happening, that is very concerning. It's not truly consensual, even if the child didn't overtly say no, since the pressure and power dynamics make it impossible for them to freely choose.

At the same time, it's important to recognize that not all sexual behaviors between children are inherently abusive. Some degree of sexual curiosity and exploration between children of similar ages is considered normal and not necessarily harmful, as long as there is mutual agreement, no coercion, and it doesn't cause distress. 

However, when one child pressures or forces sexual activity on another, there is a significant age/power difference, or it happens frequently or in a compulsive way, that crosses the line into abuse. If you experienced sexual activity with another child that felt overwhelming, violating or traumatic, your feelings are completely valid. It's okay to define and label your experience as abuse. Even if the other child didn't intend harm, if you were negatively impacted, that matters. No one else can dictate how you feel about what happened to you.

All children have the right to have their boundaries respected and to be free from coercive and unwanted sexual experiences. Struggling to accept what you experienced as abuse is so understandable, especially since it doesn't fit the stereotype of an adult perpetrator. But this absolutely can be an abusive experience with lasting harmful impacts, as you know firsthand. Your feelings of violation are real and valid.

There is still a lot we don't understand about child sexual development and behavior. More research is needed to better distinguish between harmless experimentation vs. harmful abuse. But in general, any sexual activity that is unwanted, coercive or distressing to one or more of the children involved is not okay and can be significantly damaging, regardless of ages.

I hope you can begin to extend compassion to your younger self and recognize that you did nothing to deserve this harm. It might help to imagine a child you love going through this - would you see it as their fault? You deserve the same grace and gentleness with yourself.

Healing from COCSA is a difficult journey. I'm so sorry you've had to carry this alone. I hope you're able to access good therapeutic support to process your experiences, learn to trust your own feelings, and begin to reclaim your sense of worth and autonomy. What happened to you matters, and support is available.

Wishing you all the best on your healing path. Please remember that you're not alone.

Salida de seguridad