Nearly one-third of child sex abuse perpetrators are under the age of 18. When sexual assault occurs between minors, one may be hesitant to report the activity and if they do come forward, it can be difficult to determine who to hold liable. If you have questions regarding how to seek help for your child, an attorney can help. Speaking with an experienced civil attorney can help you navigate an incident involving sexual assault between minors.
What is COCSA?
Sexual assault or abuse between minors is referred to as Child-On-Child Sexual Abuse (COCSA). This type of sexual activity between children happens without consent; mental, physical, or age equality; or as a result of physical or emotional coercion. COCSA can happen at any age but tends to peak between 12 and 14 years of age. By this time in adolescence, inappropriate sexual activity shouldn’t be dismissed as “kids being kids,” especially when considering the potential ramifications. When child-on-child sexual abuse or assault occurs, both children in the situation need help.
The victim needs help navigating the situation, understanding that what has happened was not their fault. Typically, children who disclose the incident within one month are at a decreased risk of depression and other long-term, negative effects of sexual abuse. The perpetrator also needs help as they were likely abused by someone else. Seventy percent of COCSA offenders go on to have two to nine more victims if they are not caught the first time. Intervention can stop the cycle and help the child avoid more serious consequences in adulthood.
Sexual Assault Between Minors: Early Intervention
Early intervention is important for child victims of sexual assault, as the disturbing patterns of thought and behavior become more entrenched over time. Oftentimes, children learn sexual behaviors from peers. Kids are sometimes unaware that their actions are inappropriate. They may think of what they’re doing in terms of play. In fact, sexual curiosity, masturbation, showing their private parts to other kids, and even mild forms of sexualized play like “doctor” games can be normal developments for perfectly healthy children.
Therapists say to look out for individual inappropriate sexual behavior and sexual play between children where there is a more than a two-year age gap. Once you recognize these signs, it’s your responsibility as a parent to teach your child age-appropriate conduct.
What to Do If Your Child Was Sexually Assaulted by a Child
Few horrors compare to the realization that your child has been sexually assaulted. Worse yet,
Many victims of sexual assault don’t immediately disclose their sexual encounters, so you may need to rely upon your intuition to discover the signs of sexual assault. Minors who have been involved in non-consensual activity may respond with avoidance, fright, lack of interest in life, wetting or soiling accidents, and dramatic changes in eating or sleeping patterns, or aggression. Youngsters may talk incessantly about a new “older” friend, play inappropriately with dolls and stuffed animals, explore their own bodies with objects, or speak using surprisingly sexual language.
If your child has been involved in sexual encounters with other children:
- Respond with love and support, while setting clear rules about what is or isn’t acceptable and safe behavior. Create a family safety plan to counter the risk of future sexual abuse.
- Search for therapy near you. Many mental health clinics accept insurance, including Medicare.
- Let the other parents know what has happened. Stick to the facts, let them know you’re on their side and what you’re doing about it. Ask for their help in keeping the kids safe.
Child-on-child sexual abuse is a serious issue, whether it involves sexual games or physical activity. Coming forward is the best action for current and future victims of child sexual assault, as it helps prevent future abuse. The only way to stop the cycle of sexual abuse is to expose it—as soon as possible.
Can a Minor Be Charged With Sexual Assault?
The short answer is “yes.” But when it comes to pressing criminal charges for sexual assault, here are a few things to consider about California law:
- California will not initiate criminal proceedings against children under 14 years of age.
- California law does not give minors the right to give legal consent to sexual activity prior to age 18. Often named Romeo and Juliet cases, voluntary, consensual sexual activity between minors ages 14-17 can be punishable as a misdemeanor (unlawful sexual intercourse or lewd and lascivious acts with a child), and subject to juvenile court treatment. “Sexting” is punishable under PC 311 as producing, possessing, or distributing child pornography.
- Minors ages 14-17 can be arrested and brought to delinquency court, where a law enforcement agency will determine if the minor can remain in the custody of his or her parents, or if the minor should be remanded to a juvenile facility. Minors who are arrested can also be sent to a foster home. They will be subject to a detention hearing, fitness hearing, adjudication before a judge, and a disposition hearing to determine sentencing.
- Minors found delinquent of COCSA can be sentenced to home probation or detention in a juvenile facility until age 25, depending on the severity of the offense and determined risk to the public.
- If a minor over age 14 sexually abuses a younger child, the offender can face felony charges. If charged as an adult, courts could impose formal supervised probation, lengthy state prison sentences, fines up to $10,000, a strike under California’s “Three Strikes Law,” and registration as a sex offender.
Can a Minor Be Sued for Sexual Assault?
Pressing criminal charges aren’t the only legal recourse for a sexual assault victim. Filing a civil lawsuit can force a perpetrator to admit guilt and pay restitution to the victim. A civil lawsuit can also hold third parties (such as schools) liable for the role they played in failing to protect the victim from harm. The parents of a minor can bring a lawsuit in the victim’s name or that victim can wait until age 18 to bring the suit themselves. Minors can be sued through a litigation guardian who will then be responsible for any judgments against the child.
As far as suing a third-party, California has a mandatory reporter law that requires anyone working with children to report sexual abuse. This expanded scope of liability helps families recover compensation from larger, well-funded entities in civil court.
Seek the Help of an Experienced Civil Attorney
Whether you are the victim or the parent of a victimized child, a case of child sexual assault can be difficult to navigate. An experienced legal representative can help you defeat the defense’s argument that the activity was consensual in cases of sexual assault between minors.
Working with a California attorney who specializes in sexual abuse cases is about more than legal advice and paperwork. Lawyers can also point you in the right direction for seeking medical attention, connecting with crisis social workers and counselors, dealing with insurance issues, and getting your life back in the wake of disturbing events that were beyond your control.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this blog or on this website should be construed as legal advice from Lewis & Llewellyn LLP. Neither your receipt of information from this website, nor your use of this website to contact Lewis & Llewellyn LLP creates an attorney-client relationship between you and the firm or any of its lawyers. No reader of this website should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this website without seeking the appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction.