What is COCSA? What is considered COCSA between same aged, pre-adolescent children? Are there any resources or research on the subject to help determine what behavior is healthy vs. abusive?


Thank you for this question. We receive a lot of questions about COCSA and I encourage you to read some of our other answers that relate to this as well as our recent blog post that summarizes what we know about it for more information.

COCSA stands for Child on Child Sexual Abuse. It refers to sexual activity between children that involves coercion, force, or lack of consent. Determining whether sexual behavior between children is abusive depends on factors like whether there is a significant age or developmental difference, use of force, coercion, or manipulation, and how the children feel about what happened.

Some sexual play and exploration between similarly-aged children is normal and healthy. Typical childhood sexual play is spontaneous, voluntary, lighthearted, easily diverted, balanced in power, and occurs between friends. Concerning signs include one child exerting power over the other, secrecy, strong emotions like anger or anxiety, and behaviors that are compulsive or adult-like. 

Unfortunately, research on COCSA is still emerging and resources can be limited. 

Some key takeaways are:

  • Sexual abuse between children is more common than many realize. As many as 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older, or more "powerful" children.
  • It can be hard to tell the difference between normal sexual play and abuse. Context, power dynamics, secrecy and consent are important factors to consider.  
  • Effects of COCSA are similar to sexual abuse by adults, including shame, trauma, relationship difficulties and mental health challenges. All children involved need support.
  • There is still a lot of stigma and lack of understanding around this issue. More research, resources and supports are badly needed.

Thank you for asking a question about this important topic. We appreciate it.

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