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March 2000Vol. 1, No. 1HHS-Funded Research on Children With Sexual Behavior Problems

A new set of publications provides a resource for professionals who assess and treat children with sexual behavior problems.

Children with Sexual Behavior Problems: Assessment and Treatment and three companion treatment manuals are based on a long-term study conducted by Barbara L. Bonner and Eugene Walker at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and Lucy Berliner at the University of Washington. The study's principal objectives were three-fold:

  • To assess and treat a broad range of children ages 6-12 with sexual behavior problems
  • To develop a typology for children with sexual behavior problems
  • To compare the efficacy of two approaches (cognitive-behavioral vs. dynamic group play therapy) to treating children with sexual behavior problems through a controlled treatment outcome study.

Cognitive-behavioral group therapy for children emphasizes cognitive rules, decision making, impulse control, and education. Dynamic group play therapy focuses on child-directed activities, such as story telling, team play, and arts and crafts, within controlled conditions established by a therapist.

Both approaches to treatment were found to be effective in reducing children's inappropriate or aggressive sexual behavior.

Some notable findings described by the researchers are:

  • At younger ages, males and females were equally represented, but as age increased, there was a tendency for males to outnumber females in sexual behavior problems.
  • Although the children with sexual behavior problems had suffered significantly higher rates of sexual abuse than the comparison group, there were no significant differences in terms of a history of physical abuse, neglect, or emotional abuse.
  • Children with sexual behavior problems were more disturbed and pathological than the comparison group.
  • Three subgroups of children were identified, based on examining their particular sexual behaviors-Sexually Inappropriate, Sexually Intrusive, and Sexually Aggressive
  • Outcome data indicated a significant improvement in test scores from pre-treatment to post-treatment.

The study began in 1991 and concluded in 1998.

Children with Sexual Behavior Problems: Assessment and Treatment is available online from the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information at