Child to parent violence and sexually inappropriate behaviour

When authors discuss the different ways in which child to parent violence and abuse presents, it is common to include sexual abuse in the list; and yet it is difficult to find anywhere in the literature where this discussion is expanded. I know from conversations with adoptive families that the issue is very much alive, and extremely painful to discuss. While many families fear that a request for help will result in the instigation of a child protection investigation, this is an area where alarm bells will certainly be ringing straight away. How to respond though, in a way that maintains the safety of all involved, while not further traumatising either the young person or the parents, is rarely interrogated. A recent conversation with a friend undertaking a PhD at Bournemouth University has encouraged me that more information and greater discussion may be on the way!

For many people, talking about sex and sexualised behaviours can be very challenging—let alone discussing inappropriate sexualised behaviours.  When we then add sexually inappropriate behaviours from an adolescent who is also violent towards their parents, it becomes impossible for many to even think about, let alone talk about.  The potential consequence of this silence can add to further isolation, fear and guilt for those experiencing adolescent-to-parent violence and abuse (APVA).

In 2015, The UK Home Office published an information guide on APVA. It mentions adolescents who present with heightened sexualised behaviours as a risk factor sometimes present when working with APVA.  However, the notion that adolescents may present sexually inappropriate behaviours towards their parents or that they may intimidate their parents, remains under-discussed.  The question then arises, is it under-discussed because of rarity, or is it under-discussed because of the difficulty of understanding how this might occur?

I hope to address this problem in my PhD research currently under way.

Louise Oliver, PhD Student in Bournemouth University


Filed under Discussion, Research

2 responses to “Child to parent violence and sexually inappropriate behaviour

  1. I’ve certainly come across children who are sexually inappropriate towards their parents, however of the 400 plus families I’ve dealt with this is a fairly small number. I get annoyed when some people simply list all the forms of abuse that occur with adult family violence and attempt to apply this to children’s violence to parents. I’ve been pointing out the similarity between child-to-parent violence and abuse (CPV) and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) for over 20 years now. However, there are very important differences between the two. An example is financial abu8se. Controlling the home finances in IPV is very different to damaging property (very common in CPV) or stealing from parents (also common, but not AS commnon), although both could be classed as “financial abuse” they differ more than they are similar.
    Sexual abuse of female partners by male partners is quite common, including rape, but the sexualised behaviour of the young person’s I’ve come across is far less common and quite different in intent and dynamics. Sexualised verbal abuse is extremely common as a form of disrespect and attack and is used by both adults and young people. I have seen a definite increase in quite young children using vile sexual language towards each other and to parents, language which they may or may not understand. Calling mothers sluts, c***s, lesbians, whores, etc are common. But they are quite common from pre-pubescent boys who are showing no interest in sex and also from the girls in my sample (31%). Sometimes they are copying absent abusive fathers, but other times both are aware of how to hurt their victims.
    Lack of respect and lack of appropriate boundaries sometimes (in a very small percentage of cases I’ve dealt with) leads children to be sexually inappropriate in ways that can be quite disturbing, eg. walking in on mothers in their bedrooms or the bathroom, grabbing them in sexually inappropriate ways. This is undoubtedly both sexual and abusive, however, these behaviors appear to be less common in boys once they have reached puberty so we should not assume that they are similar in intent to sexual abuse in IPV.
    Fathers are also occasionally subjected to such inappropriate behaviour but this is much rarer, and verbal abuse aimed that them rarely has any sexual content (unless you count ‘dick’)..
    I don’t have enough data or personal experience to be certain, but I’ve be very surprised if such behaviors were not more common towards foster carers (including late adoptions) than towards birth mothers or those who adopted soon after birth.
    It is certainly a subject that needs further study.

    • Thanks Eddie for your comment. Your experience in this field is much appreciated. I have heard from adoptive families, where there was past sexual abuse of the child, that inappropriate touching can be a serious problem. As you say, it is certainly an area where more study will be helpful.

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