When young people act out sexually in ways that are harmful to others or themselves, the stigma surrounding the issue can be paralyzing for everyone affected. However, data shows that treatment for problematic sexual behavior in youth is highly effective.
Faculty members at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center are among the nation’s leaders on this topic, and they recently received a federal grant to assist the U.S. Department of Defense in addressing problematic sexual behavior of youth in the military.
The National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth (NCSBY) is housed within the OU College of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics.
Its personnel have been trailblazers in the research and treatment of problematic sexual behavior of youth, and in training parents, caregivers, healthcare providers and others around the world to prevent and respond to incidents.
NCSBY’s new work is funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a component of the U.S. Department of Justice.
NCSBY is assisting the U.S. Department of Defense in developing training materials and resources to address the issue of youth problematic sexual behavior in all branches of the military.
This is an issue that communities and people worldwide struggle to address.”
Jane Silovsky, Ph.D, Clinical Child Psychologist and Director, National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth, University of Oklahoma
“But the Department of Defense has done a remarkable job of understanding the science about the appropriate response to the children with behavior problems, as well as their caregivers and the children who are impacted.”
In many cases, problematic sexual behavior in youth involves one young person harming another young person, Silovsky said. Studies show the behavior peaks between the ages of 12 and 14, and that young people rarely act out on strangers; most of the time, they’re acting out on siblings, cousins, schoolmates and others within their social networks.
Exposure to violence is a major risk factor, whether it’s domestic violence, physical abuse, harsh parenting practices, or community violence.
Exposure to sexualized media is another risk factor; young people can access pornography on any device, despite the best efforts of their caregivers, Silovsky said. In addition, there are individual risks, such as a child having developmental disabilities, being on the autism spectrum and having impulse disorders.
“These risk factors can impact children’s emotional regulation skills, impulse control skills, and their understanding of the rules and how you treat others,” Silovsky said.
“A common myth is that all youth with problematic sexual behavior are being sexually abused themselves. While sexual abuse is a risk factor and a concern, there are many kids with problematic sexual behavior have not been sexually abused.”
Nor are children with problematic sexual behavior the same as adults who have illegal behaviors or adults with pedophilia who have inappropriate arousal toward children, Silovsky said, and treating them as adults does more harm than good.
Rather, the approach involves cognitive behavioral therapy, in which