Date of this Version
In order to adequately and appropriately intervene with children exhibiting problematic sexual behaviors, a comprehensive understanding of etiology is imperative. Although sexually abused children are observed engaging in more problematic sexual behaviors than their normative or psychiatric counterparts, it is clear that such behaviors may be the result of factors other than, or in addition to, sexual abuse. The goal of the present study was utilize a developmental psychopathology perspective in broadening our understanding of mechanisms associated with the development of problematic sexual behaviors in childhood. Participants for the study include 1, 149 children (51.8% female) drawn from the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN), a large multi-site consortium investigating child health and development. Both variable-centered and person-centered approaches were used to examine factors across a number of developmental-ecological domains (e.g., child, parent, immediate interactional context, and broader social context) associated with the development of problematic sexual behaviors in middle childhood. Overall, results suggest that although sexual abuse constitutes a risk factor for sexualized behaviors, other factors – particularly those in the maternal domain and immediate interactional context – also contribute to the display of subsequent sexualized behaviors. Furthermore, subgroups of children appear to demonstrate sexualized behaviors for different constellations of reasons, consistent with the concept of equifinality. Finally, results of both the variable-centered and person-centered analyses indicated that sexual abuse appears to be a more important etiological mechanism associated with the development of sexualized behavior for girls, versus boys. The present study fills an important void in both the child psychopathology and child maltreatment literatures and contributes to the ongoing discourse regarding treatment of children exhibiting problematic sexualized behaviors.