Worrisome sexual behavior (WSB) is often described as an outcome specific to child sexual abuse (CSA). Therefore, it is highly relevant to study WSB in relation to sexual abuse, especially in very young children, as it is hard to recognize sexual abuse in children who have limited verbal capacities of disclosing. Over time, literature describing WSB following CSA has gradually broadened. However, a gap remains regarding the long-term development of WSB in children who were sexually abused during infancy or very early childhood. To our knowledge, our study is the first to examine developmentally-related sexual behavior versus sexual abuse-specific behavior longitudinally in children who were sexually abused at a very young age. In total, we examined the sexual behavior, as reported by parents of 45 children who experienced early-age sexual abuse for a period of more than five years. Overall, we found that WSB is likely to be a CSA-specific and potentially long-term outcome for children who were sexually abused at a very young age. Despite the decrease in sexual abuse-specific behavior over time, the level of this behavior was still significantly high 8 years after the sexual abuse. This finding supports long-term monitoring and assessment and intervention for WSB over time. Despite these findings, it is important to note that WSB does not serve as proof of sexual abuse in children; likewise, when a child does not present with WSB, it does not indicate the absence of a substantiated history of sexual abuse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1053-1063
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child and Adolescent Trauma
Issue number4
Early online date2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Longitudinal
  • Sexual abuse
  • Very young children
  • Worrisome sexual behavior

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