Social Work

Date of this version


Document Type



sexual behavior problems, children, theory



Behavioral and family characteristics of sexually aggressive children were obtained from a national convenience sample of treatment providers to gain descriptive data and to investigate the tentative use of a social learning theory model of sexual aggression of children. One hundred fifty-five professionals responded to a questionnaire of their work with a total of 287 sexually aggressive children aged 12 and under. A number of family variables may have impacted the children's sexual behavior. The average child resided in a two-parent home, and in most of these families (70%), at least one caretaker was chemically dependent; 48% have at least one parent known to have been sexually abused; and 72% of the children were sexually abused themselves (60% by a caretaker). The children with known sexual abuse histories were younger at the first sign of sexual aggression than those without known sexual abuse histories. Children under 6 years of age were more likely to perceive their sexually aggressive behavior as normal than were older children. Differences based on gender of the children were not found for sexual aggression. These results suggest the potential for use of a social learning theory with sexual aggression in children. Implications for practice and suggestions for further research are discussed.





Published in

Child Abuse & Neglect

Citation/Other Information

Burton, D. L., Nesmith, A., & Badten, L. (1997). Clinicians’ views on sexually aggressive children and their families: A theoretical exploration. Child Abuse & Neglect, 21(2), 157-170.