Due to some recent findings of something, I'm really worried my niece is being sexually abused. I honestly think she is in some sort of "relationship" with someone that she loves and trusts and doesn't know that it's wrong.

I brought up the things I found with her parents and everyone is just at a loss as to how to handle it. We all know that someone needs to talk to her and find out if there is something going on and her parents are going to talk to her doctor to get her in counseling.

It's hard to stomach the fact that if someone is abusing her, it's most likely someone we all know and trust. I'm scared she won't be honest, because she thinks that it's okay and likes it and doesn't want to get anyone in trouble.

Is it possible that she could be enjoying being molested not knowing that it's wrong?

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    Look on google what "grooming" is and be in no shame to report ASAP directly to police if even in the slightest doubt a minor is being abused!!! Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 17:38

5 Answers 5


I'm tempted to answer "Yes.", but that would be totally misleading.

So the long answer, because we need to examine the mechanisms that are at work in such cases:

When we think abuse, we often imagine the mysterious stranger that snags little boys and girls and does unmentionable cruel things to them. And yes, these cases happen. But:

The majority of all child abuse crimes are committed by people these children know, love and trust.
They happen in the family circle, at friends, at school, sports, youth groups, church,..., in short, places where children and perpetrators interact and know each other.
Before any physical boundaries are crossed, the perpetrator usually builds trust by giving extra attention and care and filling emotional gaps that are there. This relationship is turned into something "special", "precious" and often "secret". The process is called "grooming".

Boundaries are typically crossed in many tiny steps - a touch here and there first - and as it's done by someone they not only know but trust, it's "normal" or at least "ok-ish", especially if it's "their special secret".

So back to my original answer: Yes, it is possible that a child "enjoys" the abuse, not necessarily the sexual part (although physical stimulation can produce pleasurable feelings), but the being percieved, getting attention or other emotional needs filled. Also, not every form of abuse is physically painful, so at the moment not as easy to recognize as inappropriate by the child or the parents - but deeply wrong nevertheless, of course.

You (or more precisely: the parents) should definitively investigate further and don't hesitate to get professional help. Children can compartmentalize and "forget" or "ignore" the "bad things", but in later years, that abuse is likely to come back and haunt her in one way or another.


Physically - Yes. Mentally - No!

In my experience (foster parent - seen this way too much, unfortunately), kids this age know that this isn't right. Physically, they might enjoy the stimulation - it's a natural response - but that actually tends to make the experience worse emotionally and mentally for the child. People who do this to kids typically go through a "grooming" process, starting out slow, becoming a friend, then moving on to small touches that they can convince the child are innocent, such that by the time things are fully developed, the child is convinced the situation is all their fault.

These kids typically don't tell, because they feel guilty for what is happening.

  • Why didn't I tell earlier? If I tell now, after so long, everyone will be mad at me.
  • I don't want them to get in trouble, they are nice to me the rest of the time.
  • This is my fault because I was too tempting (common excuse perps give the victim)
  • They only do this because they love me SOOOO much.
  • And if they did receive any physical pleasure, "I must be a bad person since I enjoyed it."

The Grooming Dynamic - describes the grooming process and effects on children


The answer to this is pretty complex, as partially touched on by others. For an adult the answer would be technically no (but realistically far more complicated), because the definition of 'abuse' means that it is undesirable; but for a child any action designed to encourage sexual behavior by an adult is generally considered abuse; on the grounds that just because the child is too young to understand or articulate her feelings doesn't mean the action won't ultimately be harmful.

The distinction of abuse having to be unwanted is still sometimes relevant for a child though, and thus worth at least addressing briefly. For instance if an 8 year old was involved in some form of so called 'sexual' play with another child of nearly the same age, and without any age-inappropriate level of knowledge about sex, rather or not the play was abusive would largely depend on rather or not the child in question found it undesirable or not. Playing 'doctor' is normal and is usually not abusive for children of the same age, but if one child does not want to play doctor then it can become abusive. Some may view this play as sexual, though in reality it's more about curiosity and exploration then actual sexuality, but it can only be defined as abuse relative to the child's perception. Just because an adult doesn't approve of the play does not make the play inherently abusive or harmful to the child. Still, I presume your question is focusing on abuse from an adult not another child.

Then the answer to the question as written is yes to sort-of-yes depending on definition of 'enjoy'.

Most obviously, it's possible for a child to not enjoy a sexual activity while still defining it as enjoyable to themselves or others. Others have already touched on this aspect in some detail so I won't reitterate too much of it. Since emotions and desirability is complex, which can lead to situations where the child does not like the sexual activity, but does like other aspects associated with it, like the praise an adult gives the child for performing the sexual action, or the sense of being 'grown up', or the extra attention and play that happens before/after the undesirable sexual activity. This can result in the child viewing the overall reaction as enjoyable even while finding the sexual aspect of it undesirable.

Things get more complicated though as you consider sense of obligation and confusion about the actual activity. A child may not enjoy an action, but they may feel an obligation to the adult performing it which makes them feel they have to enjoy it. They may be afraid to tell on an adult, or afraid of the adult being forced to stop because they value the adults attention in other ways. In addition a child may try to convince themselves that they enjoy something that they actually find uncomfortable because they believe they should enjoy it, or they are disloyal or immature for not enjoying it, or because the only way to deal with something so upsetting is to convince yourself you like it as a coping mechanism.

Finally, sexual contact can lead to physical pleasure, in some cases even a full orgasm, in a child. They may therefore enjoy the physical sensations of the abuse even as emotionally or mentally the find it harmful. For any person, but especially so a child, the enjoyment of the physical sensations can confuse them into thinking that they must 'enjoy' all of the experience, or even that they can't say it was unwanted since their body enjoyed it (physical enjoyment does not make an action right or justified, but sometimes victims of sexual abuse still feel this way).

So in short, there are situations where a child may enjoy part of the situation, or simply have tried hard to convince themselves or others they enjoyed it, even as the action as a whole is undesirable and uncomfortable.

Separate from the confusion of uncomfortable actions defined as 'enjoyable' one can argue that certain forms of sexual abuse may actually be enjoyed, or at least not cause immediate discomfort, while still being harmful. That is to say there could be a situation when a child does not feel any immediate discomfort or is not otherwise significantly upset by an abusive action directed towards them. This DOES NOT mean the action was not abusive, as some abuse may cause harm at a later date even if they were not immediately harmful to the child.

For instance an adult can 'groom' a child to accept sexual action through subtle ways, such as complimenting their body in inappropriate manner or encouraging the child to ignore sexual boundaries such as nudity while playing games with them. The grooming itself may not be immediately harmful or even truly enjoyed by the child, as it still involves compliments and playing of games and the child may not find the form of game and compliment unusual at the time it occurs. However, the end goal of such sexualization is to ruin the child's ability to develop a proper self image ans understanding of their sexuality, and to make the child susceptible to later more direct forms of sexual abuse; both of which will ultimately harm the child. The harm may not be noticed until later, when the child's self image is so tied into sex and sexual image that they can not see their worth outside of sex, but at the moment the child received a compliment about their body the compliment may have been 100% welcome; the child can't realize that the pleasant compliments may harm their eventual emotional and sexual growth.

In a related concept a child who lacks any sense of sexuality may not consider an action as sexual and thus not see any reason to be uncomfortable about the action. For instance if a young child were asked to pose for a play "photo shoot" they may find this a fun game, just like dress up or making silly faces. Depending on the child the fact that they were naked for this 'game' may not register as unusual or wrong, since nudity need not be associated with sexuality in a young child's mind. Since they do not recognize the meaning behind the photos, or their being naked for the photo as being suspicious, they may not feel any immediate harm or regret from the action; in their mind it was just harmless play.

Of course this is still abuse, and not acceptable. This can still cause a sort of delayed harm, by the child being habituated to sex and sexuality which does harm similar to other forms of sexual grooming I mention above, by encouraging the perpetrator of the abuse to engage in worse actions later, or by the reaction of the child when they are older and realize the true nature of what they thought was harmless, or by the photos still being available and viewable after the child is old enough to be properly upset by someone viewing such photos sexually. The point is that in theory abuse can occur without a child having any immediate regrets about the action; and this does not mean the action should be deemed acceptable.

However, your real question doesn't seem to be about abuse or enjoyment, but rather what to do about suspected abuse, so lets address that.

First of all, you don't give much specifics about why you suspect abuse. I wish I had more detail here to better guide you. One thing I notice is you imply the child is still happy, usually an abused child will have rather obvious side effects like depression, fear, regression in age appropriate behaviors, nightmares etc etc.

In either case DO NOT ignore anything that concerns you. Far too often people ignore warning signs for fear they may be wrong or because it's too inconvenient to look into or they don't want to know the truth etc. If you have any worries you need to do something!

However, having said that, be very careful about speaking with her directly about this yourself. This is actually always good advice in all situations of suspected abuse of a child. The reason you want to be careful speaking with her is that you may be conveying messages you do not mean to when speaking to her, messages which will make her feel worse about any abuse that may have occurred

For starters if you are (understandably!) upset about the abuse, your anger at the person abusing her may be read by her as anger at her for being part of the abuse. She may feel she did something wrong to upset you and thus feel worse about being a "bad girl" who angered someone she card about. Similarly Questions about someone doing something "wrong" to her may imply to her that her actions were "wrong" and thus she was wrong for being involved in them. Saying that little girls shouldn't be doing some action may be interpreted as her being wrong for being involved in the action, rather then the other being wrong for making her etc.

If she loves the person abusing her anger or hostility at that individual can also make her feel worse because she still feels attachment and loyalty to them and does not want others to be angry at this person. She may feel bad for getting someone else in trouble. When you don't let her see the abuser again she may think it's a punishment because "she told" like she wasn't suppose to. In short, it's possible to make her feel worse about the situation if discussion is done in such a way as to focus on the "wrongness" of the abuse only; rather then focusing on her deserving choice and that it's better that she not have to do anything she is not comfortable with etc.

There is also the chance she will give you the answer she thinks you want if you speak with her with leading questions, which could lead to the wrong person being accused or misunderstanding of the actual situation.

Instead of talking with her directly I would instead seek a professional, who knows how to handle this situation better, to speak with her. A professional can both ascertain if abuse is likely to have occurred, and if so, help her to understand the abuse in context of something that shouldn't happen to her, but not something that she has done wrong. By professional there are really two your want her to see, her pediatrician and a psychologist.

Her pediatrician can inspect her for signs of physical sexual abuse, such as tearing of vagina, missing Hyman (which by it self does not prove abuse!) or contracting of STDs. Such an exam can confirm certain kinds of abuse with a high degree of accuracy, but it can not rule out abuse; as many types of abuse will not lead direct physical harm. However, the other advantage of contacting a pediatrician is that they can likely point you to a psychologist who can speak with her in detail.

Ultimately a psychologist is the best resource, ideally one that already works with children who have been sexually abused. They will know how to ask the right questions to determine rather she was abused without putting her in a situation where she feels she has done something wrong. If you believe abuse is likely I would look into contacting one.

However, until you have seen a specialist I would be careful about discussing this with her directly. I would limit my questions to things such as if there is anyone she doesn't like seeing or anything she would prefer not to do with others (without saying anything about what sort of things she may not like) and see what she says. Most kids will mention lots of things like not liking to clean their room or eat vegetables, and wanting to not be babysat by the boring nanny that doesn't have TV etc, silly things. But she may hint at wanting to avoid someone that she is uncomfortable with due to abuse. If so I would not push too hard on why or what happened, again as a non-expert you may risk use of leading questions which bias both her answers and how she views the situation; simply consider not forcing her to be alone with the individual until she sees a psychologist or doctor who can look into the odds of abuse and better help you to discuss the topic with her.

If for some reason her parents continually refuse to have her speak to a specialist then you may wish to look into more direct options, like contacting child services; since there is always a chance that one of the parents is abusing the child and actively resisting seeking help for the child. However, I would at least attempt to arrange for her to see a psychologist without child services first; while child services is usually very delicate about this I think a single professional psychologist can be more delicate in handling the situation; particularly when ascertaining if abuse has occurred at all. Still, I stress that it's better to contact child services then do nothing if no other actions are being taken and you truly suspect abuse. It's better to say something and be wrong then say nothing and allow any abuse that may be happening to continue.


Absolutely. That is why we have age of consent and age of criminal liability and juvenile laws: a child learns about wrong and right and its options and proper and improper choices from adults.

There are laws against rape and abuse of adults against their will. We have separate laws against forming or bending the will of children against their interests as future mature members of society, regardless of whether that may match current interests or desires of children.

Tampering with a child's sexuality at young age takes away decisions from a child that it should rather make for itself at a more mature age.

Our society and culture completes fundamental education significantly after a child reaches fertility, and that's even after first interest in its own sexuality (which has elements even before puberty). That makes for a large time window where sexual exposure may seem interesting without its consequences being understood.

In addition, a child's sexuality and an adult's one are seriously different. The child will adjust its ideas based on an adult's input.

Usually that is a good idea. In questions of sexuality, this is so much prone to mis- and abuse that we have put laws into place against it.

Those laws are not "natural" laws, but they are a very good idea.

The sad thing is that it is rather tricky going after the responsible adult without traumatizing the child in the process: once the child learns about being majorly involved with a very very bad activity, it will be hard for it to just realign its life around a different set of priorities.

This is an additional damage that an adult child abuser is accountable for even though it does not arise from his actions but from society's reaction to them. He knows about them, the child doesn't.


For two years, I was in charge of my organization's child safety policy, and saw more cases than I ever should have seen, in a lifetime. My soul is burned. But that experience taught me that yes, children that age, and a lot younger can enjoy being molested. I saw a child as young as 5 acting out in self stimulation because of the things she had gone through. That is not to say that the damage is any less, on the contrary, that only makes it worse. The child still deals with the shame and guilt and inability to speak about what was done to them, and it is compounded by the shame they feel over any pleasure they may have felt. They do not understand that their bodies are wired for that pleasure and that this is not something they can control. Yet another piece of control and innocence that the abuser forcefully steals from the child.

My blood boils just thinking about it.

However, there must be more to a reply than just answering your question. And that more depends on what this "something" is that causes you to suspect abuse? Best case scenario, you are being paranoid. Worst case scenario, I dread to say it, but again, I must, she is being abused by her father, and you telling her parents does not help, but makes things worse. The necessary additional reply to your question can be anything from relax, that "something" does happen sometimes and might just need some counseling which her parents will get her, to go straight to the authorities, this needs to be investigated by those trained to do so. But it all depends on what is causing you to suspect.

Two more things - first, in the organization i worked in, 90% of child sexual abuse cases were perpetrated by married, well educated men. In the general population, 90% of offenders are known to their victims, and almost 50% are family members (link). And second, depending on what you saw, that causes you to suspect, you may be required by law to report it to authorities, and for a good reason. Too much child abuse goes undealt with because people who have no training, knowledge, and who are biased to trust family members, think they can deal with it themselves.

I strongly urge you to go to a counselor yourself, someone who does not know the family. In the confidence of the counseling relationship, share exactly what you saw, thought and did. Then if the counselor tells you to go to authorities, do not hesitate to do so. He/she may be required to do so as well, based on your report to him/her, but that is a good thing that is intended to and will protect your niece, if it is necessary.

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    Actually, I must stress significantly that you statement about men being under-reported is wrong. In fact it's female abuse that is largely under-reported; which leads to those abused by women to have their abuse be dismissed by authorities and for them to feel either that the abuse wasn't abuse, because 'women don't abuse people', or that they did something wrong to cause the abuse by a women. Meanwhile males working with children are drastically over reported for non-abuse. better to stress that it's usually known individuals then strangers who perpetrate abuse.
    – dsollen
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 0:16
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    In fact I question your 90% claim. At minimum 7% of child sexual abuse is by women from studies I've seen. I've seen no studies that suggest education was a significant factor on odds of abusing, but since more men are uneducated then educated we would expect a decent number of uneducated abusers by pure numbers. I suspect men in relationships to be more likely to abuse, since abuse of children in a home is most likely, but still some unmarried abusers must exist. To believe that men who are unmarried or uneducated make up only 3% of all child abuse seems unlikely...
    – dsollen
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 0:21
  • ...furthermore, while I think doing otherwise is reprehensible, legally only someone with a "duty to act" is compelled to report any crime. In this case this would include immediate parental gaurdian, and certain people who work with children such as pediatrician, teacher, psychologist, social worker, and of course foster parents. However the OP, as the child's aunt, has not agreed to accept a "duty to act" and thus has no legal obligation to report; though she would be reprehensible not to if she suspected anything. She should report, but the law doesn't compel it.
    – dsollen
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 0:26
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    @dsollen - you are correct about the 90%. I went back to look at my stats, because I clearly remembered that number, and it was the percentage of cases within the organization I worked for until last year, where the perpetrators were were married, well educated men. But our organization was already slanted that way, so it's not surprising, and we did not have the gender bias problem in reporting and prosecuting, that we could tell. I will edit accordingly and add links to stats.
    – user16557
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 16:18
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    That does make sense then. I otherwise agree with what you said, other then wanting to stress the risk of women abusers because of how much harm the cultural perception that women can't be abusers causes to those who were abused by women. The other two comments are mostly my being a stickler for statistics and general nitpicking; forgive me for being annoying :)
    – dsollen
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 16:53

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