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A major Australian sexual health study of 2,388 students (15-17 years old) reported that 14.9% of girls had unwanted sex because "their partner thought they should" (Smith, Agius, Dyson, Mitchell, & Pitts, 2003).This suggests that consent was absent and/or there was some level of coercion in these girls' sexual relationships.Police statistics showing the percentage of all sexual abuse committed by young people is relatively consistent (between 9-16%, see Table 2 for some examples from Australia illustrating this point).This is consistent with victim reports on offenders from New South Wales counselling services.We use the term "young people" to describe adolescents aged 13-17 years.However, children younger than this can harm or distress others by their sexual behaviours, and children aged 10 and over can be held criminally responsible for sexually abusive behaviour in most states and territories (although it is extremely uncommon for children under 15 to face prosecution) (Office for Children, 2005).It is useful to think about three factors - equality, consent and coercion - and to what extent they are present in the relationship between the young people involved in the sexual interaction (Ryan, 1997).For example, an age difference of more than two years is generally considered unequal.
There is a tendency to minimise or dismiss young people's sexually abusive behaviour as experimentation or play, or as a 'phase' that will pass with age (Ryan & Lane, 1997).
There is a common misperception that a young person who has sexually abused a female child will only present a risk to other female children.
However, victims tend to be chosen based on factors of vulnerability and accessibility, rather than anything related to the abuser's sexual arousal or interests (Children's Protection Society, 2003).
Rather, it emphasises that such behaviour is tacitly and sometimes explicitly condoned within the cultural context of many (young) people.
There are a range of phrases used in the research and treatment literature to describe this group, including 'juvenile sex offenders', 'young people who sexually abuse', 'adolescent sex offenders', and 'adolescents with sexually abusive behaviours'.1 Victoria Police, 2005 2 Includes n = 16 apprehended when over 17 years of age 3 South Australian Office of Crime Statistics & Research, 2005 4 Queensland Police Service, 2005 5 Nisbet, Rombouts, & Smallbone, 2005 Young people who sexually abuse generally target either younger children or peers, although some young people also target adults.