Child-on-child rape: the most shocking crime of all

2011-04-02 00:00

ONE feels in one’s bones that it is unnatural. We’re talking about rape, after all. But what if the rapist is a 10-year-old boy?

Worse still — what if he has managed to persuade four other girls to hold his eight-year-old victim down?

“It was a massive shock. I didn’t even know a 10-year-old was physically capable of raping someone,” says clinical psychologist Marita Rademeyer about the incident, which she regards as a watershed moment in her career.

Earlier this month Rademeyer, one of the founders of the Child Trauma Clinic in Pretoria, said at a seminar on children who sexually abuse other children that she knows both children through her work with awaiting-trial minors.

This was the first time she had encountered child-on-child sex.

“I cried all night long and had to question all my assumptions about children, because I’ve always thought they are innocent.”

Rademeyer says that according to Childline statistics, about 50% of children who phone in about sexual abuse have been molested by other children.

Furthermore, only one in every nine children reports molestation.

The young age of the rapists, their limited insight and judgment, and even sometimes the voluntary participation of the victims make it extremely difficult for adults to understand the incidents from a legal, psychological and social perspective.

Handling the situation is a minefield. The aggressor is frequently also a victim of abuse or neglect.

Rademeyer says such children often have learning problems and struggle to complete their schooling. Behavioural problems, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, aggression and high-risk behaviour are typical.

The 10-year-old boy she has had to deal with was himself a victim of severe abuse.

He would throw himself from trees and windows and walk around outside in the middle of winter wearing only a pair of shorts.

Rademeyer says research has shown that up to 90% of girls and 60% of boys who sexually abuse other children are themselves victims of abuse.

“The question is: What causes the behaviour of the other 10% of girls and 40% of boys?”

Experts suspect that children who have been neglected and did not have the opportunity to bond with their primary care-givers will more easily sexually abuse someone, but it is not always an expression of aggression or a need for sex.

In some cases they reach out inappropriately to other people because of a need for intimacy and physical contact.

“It is to feel loved and close to someone and sometimes has little to do with sexuality as such,” says Edith Kriel, a play therapist and social worker from Cape Town.

She tells of a brother and sister who became sexually involved.

The boy was arrested and removed from the household.

It turned out that the parents were so obsessed with their marriage problems that they didn’t give their children any attention.

The children supported each other emotionally, but when they reached puberty the interaction became sexual. The girl received a lot of attention after the details became known, but the boy was rejected.

According to Kriel, the children were too hastily categorised as the aggressor and the victim respectively, while the case was far more complex.

Kriel also says it is important to distinguish between normal sexual development and deviant sexual behaviour.

She relates an incident in the Western Cape where seven rural boys aged eight to 11 years were planning to cook a pot of food.

An eighth arrived and offered the others sex in exchange for some food. The seven boys sodomised him and everyone sat and enjoyed a peaceful meal together afterwards.

“Where does one start? With the victim or the seven boys? The guidelines are not always there. The boys did not see the incident as sexual abuse, but as sexual activity.”

Kriel says the reason children sometimes do not see certain incidents as traumatic is that they don’t appreciate the consequences of the behaviour.

Studies show that about 20% of children who experience sexual behavioural problems early on will commit sexual offences as adolescents. About five percent to 15% of these adolescents subsequently commit offences as adults.

The law requires anyone who finds out that a child has been molested to report it. This includes schools, regardless of whether the incident took place on school property or not.

Children who are 12 years and younger cannot legally consent to sex, but teenagers 16 years and upwards can, says Victor Mbinga, who works with young offenders at the Teddy Bear Clinic.

The challenge lies with children between 12 and 16, who can consent to having sex with each other, but can be charged in terms of the law if they do so. The relevant legislation is Section 15 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 2007.

The Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria is engaged in a legal process to question the constitutionality of this legislation as they believe it criminalises possible normal consensual sexual behaviour between children and is not the best way to solve the problem.

Another provision is that a teenager who is more than two years older than his or her 12- to 16-year-old sexual partner can be charged with rape, even if the sex was consensual.

Experts believe that child victims of sexual abuse are more prone to alcohol abuse and psychiatric problems later on.

Nowadays children who are found guilty are referred to “diversion” programmes rather than being punished.

In moderate cases attempts are made to divert the children, but some children need medication to inhibit the behaviour. It is particularly difficult when large groups of children who have all been sexually abused live together in places of safety.

 

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