Join us in directly supporting survivors of sexual violence by giving a gift today. Our Wave depends on your generous contributions for our continued success. Every little bit helps ❤️

Laura Sinko — March 1, 2024

Child-on-child Sexual Abuse (COCSA): Frequently Asked Questions and Considerations

Laura Sinko

We have received many stories detailing experiences people had as children being abused by other children on the Our Wave platform. We have also received many questions on our FAQ page about this topic and whether or not a survivor’s experience “counts” as child-on-child sexual abuse (COCSA).

We wanted to, therefore, talk a bit about child-perpetrated sexual abuse on the blog to share what we know, what we don’t know, and things you may want to consider if you feel you may have experienced COCSA.

To start, very little research has been conducted using the term “COCSA.” This acronym seems to be used more in online organizing spaces than in clinical, legal, or academic spaces. We want to acknowledge that some people may find comfort in identifying within the COCSA community, while others may not feel that the acronym resonates with their experience. For this blog, we will call sexual abuse perpetrated by one child onto another “COCSA,” but please ask how people prefer to identify the harm they experienced before you place this label on them.

COCSA involves a minor engaging in sexually abusive behavior towards another minor. The legal definition of sexual abuse perpetrated by one child onto another child varies by jurisdiction, but it generally involves any non-consensual sexual activity between minors where one child uses force, coercion, or manipulation against another child. These cases may be addressed under juvenile or family law systems, and the specifics of what constitutes abuse may differ based on age, developmental stage, and local laws. In such cases, the age difference between the survivor and the person who caused harm can vary.

 Chronological age difference is not the sole determinant of whether COCSA occurred. Factors such as the emotional, cognitive, and physical development of the individuals, as well as the power dynamics within the relationship can also contribute to situations of COCSA. The dynamics behind COCSA perpetration are complex and influenced by various factors, including social and environmental conditions, family circumstances, exposure to inappropriate behaviors, and lack of proper education on boundaries and consent.

COCSA can be incredibly difficult to process, especially if you still have a relationship with the person who harmed you. It’s not uncommon for survivors to experience conflicting emotions after experiencing this type of abuse, including feelings of confusion, betrayal, and even a desire to maintain a relationship with the person who harmed them. This complexity stems from the inherent innocence and vulnerability of childhood juxtaposed with the trauma of abuse.

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. Research suggests that children abused by peers have greater difficulty identifying their experiences as abuse compared to those harmed by adults, which can delay help-seeking and exacerbate feelings of guilt and shame. It also can hinder survivors’ abilities to  assert boundaries or seek support in the aftermath. Societal norms about childhood innocence further complicate things, as there is often a reluctance to acknowledge that children are capable of perpetrating sexual abuse, leading to disbelief and minimization of survivors’ experiences.

One thing that is important to mention that adds to the complexity of this issue is that often children who engage in sexual abuse towards other children have a history of victimization themselves. This highlights the interconnected nature of trauma and its impact on behavior. Understanding this dynamic can help contextualize the experiences of both survivors and children who cause harm, emphasizing the importance of trauma-informed interventions and support for all parties.

If you think you may have experienced COCSA, first and foremost, honor your feelings and prioritize your well-being and safety. You may need to set boundaries with the person who harmed you if they are still in your life, seek support from trusted adults or professionals, or engage in therapeutic interventions tailored to address the unique challenges of COCSA survivors.

Ultimately, what you choose to do with the information presented here today is up to you. If you think you have experienced COCSA, and you feel comfortable and safe doing so, you may choose to share your experiences with someone you trust in your life. Having people in your corner to provide emotional and decision-making support can be helpful as you process these details and determine next steps. You may also consider talking to someone at a sexual violence crisis center or with trained professionals on RAINN’s online chat system. Talking to professionals can help you weigh your options and determine what next steps might be best for your healing. You may also consider reporting the abuse to authorities or seeking legal advice. Reporting can serve multiple purposes, including potentially preventing future harm to others and holding the perpetrator accountable for their actions. Finally, you may also be interested in pursuing restorative justice options to facilitate a conversation with the person who harmed you so that they can understand the impact of their actions and can work towards a path to make amends outside of the criminal-legal system. Whatever you decide, it is essential to prioritize your well-being throughout this process and make decisions that feel right for you. COCSA can be challenging to navigate, but remember that you deserve support, validation, and healing.

Help change the conversation.

Our Wave depends on your generous contributions for our continued success. Donate today and support us as we work to support survivors of sexual assault.

Read StoriesSupport Us

Made with in Raleigh, NC

Safety Exit