Can a 4-Year-Old Sexually Assault a Peer? Experts Answer

Studies suggest that children who exhibit sexually explicit behaviour are likely to be victims of abuse themselves.

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Mind It
3 min read
Studies suggest that if a child exhibits sexually explicit behaviour, there is a high chance of them being victims of abuse themselves.
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When a four-and-a-half-year-old is accused of sexual assault, a combination of words the child perhaps doesn’t even understand in its entirety, the problem is perhaps far deeper than it seems.

In a horrifying case that emerged from Delhi this week, a four-and-a-half-year-old boy was accused of sexually assaulting a classmate within the premises of a prominent private school. The case raises concerns about the mental health and the overall well-being of not just the child who was sexually assaulted but also the child who allegedly committed the act.

What did he think when he was doing? Was he fully aware of the extent of his act? Is he even capable of being fully aware of its extent? Where did he learn to do what he did? The questions are too many to count.

It’s Important to Not Vilify the Child as a Criminal, Says an Expert

The premise of treating the boy as a criminal or an abuser is flawed, says Anuja Gupta, founder of RAHI, an NGO that works with women and survivors of incest/child sexual abuse.

Perhaps we need to look at the child differently. He has a sexual behavioural problem, but how does he have it? There is a possibility that either the child has been abused himself or he has seen similar behaviour elsewhere and decided to enact it.
Anuja Gupta, Founder of RAHI

Gupta told The Quint that the word ‘abuse’ implies coercion and the intent to harm – or in the case of sexual abuse, to use a person for sexual gratification.

A child in this age group is normally incapable of the maturity that this kind of behaviour calls for.

He needs to be looked at as a child with a problem which needs to be addressed. Both children need therapy. When a child is sexually aggressive, we can’t express shock and horror, instead it’s a situation we need to explore.
Anuja Gupta, Founder of RAHI

A study for the Child Abuse Review, as cited by Independent, affirmed what Gupta suggested about the children in this case.

If a child exhibits sexually explicit behaviour, there is a high chance of them being victims of abuse themselves.

Additionally, the psyche of such a child would be to take away the happiness of another happier child.

A single abuse victim, therefore, inadvertently, triggers a cycle of inflicting pain on others. It therefore becomes imperative for the problem to be addressed for it is instead of holding children as young as four and five years old accountable.

“A Child Might be Imitating Something They’ve Seen”

Dr Samir Parikh, Psychiatrist and Director of Fortis Mental Healthcare, and author of Let Him Not Sink, a manual for adults who work closely with children and adolescents, told The Quint that the correct way to deal with any case of the kind is by bringing in the idea of imitation.

The right way to look at it, in case of children in the three to five years and four to six years age groups, would be to associate this kind of behaviour with imitation. Children don’t understand this kind of behaviour themselves. So, the odds are that they have accidentally come across it somewhere, and then they ended up repeating it.
Dr Samir Parikh, Psychiatrist and Director of Fortis Mental Healthcare

When asked about the factors that may lead to this kind of behaviour in children, Dr Parikh says: “We need to work on media literacy. Children will be exposed to a lot of inappropriate content and that’s why adults need to be more responsible about what they are exposing them to”.

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