About Childhood Sexual Abuse
A general statement about abuse: Those who hold the least power
and resources in society are most often those who are abused (women,
children, disabled, elderly). Bear in mind that anyone can be abused, this
includes men and women, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, employed
or unemployed - abuse is no respecter of persons or boundaries, and
can occur at any time during a person’s life.
A few statistics (as of 2006) and facts:
According to Child Maltreatment 2006, of the 905,000 victims of child
maltreatment in Federal fiscal year 2006, 64.1 percent suffered neglect,
16.0 percent were physically abused, 8.8 percent were sexually abused,
6.6 percent were emotionally or psychologically maltreated, and 2.2
percent were medically neglected. In addition, 15.1 percent of victims
experienced other types of maltreatment such as abandonment, threats
of harm to the child, and congenital drug addiction.
- 27% of adult women have been sexually abused as children.
- 16% of adult men have been sexually abused as children.
- 60% of the perpetrators are not related to their victims but do know
friend, neighbor, babysitter).
- 30% of the perpetrators are relatives of the victim (father, uncle,
sibling, or their female counterparts).
- 10% of the perpetrators are strangers to their victims.
- Men are the perpetrators in most cases (male or female victims).
- Women are the perpetrator in approximately 14% of the cases
against boys and 6%
of the cases against girls.
There is no universal definition of child sexual abuse, definitions vary from one country to
the next and within the United States each state has its own definition.
The perpetrator is usually older than the victim by five or more years, however, this is not
always the case. I have a friend who was abused by her younger brother (by five years)
purely because he was bigger than her and mean.
A child is anyone under age 18 years unless they are an emancipated minor. The legal age
limits associated with children and sexual abuse are subject to the definitions included
within individual state laws.
Child sexual abuse generally refers to sexual acts, sexually motivated behaviors, or sexual
exploitation involving children. Child sexual abuse includes a wide range of behaviors, such
- Oral, anal, or genital penile penetration
- Anal or genital digital or other penetration
- Genital contact with no intrusion
- Fondling of a child's breasts or buttocks
- Indecent exposure
- Inadequate or inappropriate supervision of a child's voluntary sexual activities
- Use of a child in prostitution, pornography, Internet crimes, or other sexually exploitative
Sexual abuse includes both touching offenses (fondling or sexual intercourse, masturbation,
oral/genital contact, digital penetration) and nontouching offenses (exposing a child to
pornographic materials, voyeurism, exposure, viewing r- or x- rated movies) and can involve
varying degrees of violence and emotional trauma. The most commonly reported cases
involve incest, or sexual abuse occurring among family members, including those in
biological families, adoptive families, and stepfamilies. Incest most often occurs within a
father-daughter relationship; however, mother-son, father-son, and sibling-sibling incest
also occurs. Sexual abuse is also sometimes committed by other relatives or caretakers.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
The presence of a single sign does not mean child abuse is happening in a family; however,
when these signs appear over and over or in combinations you should take a closer look at
the situation and consider the possibility of child abuse.
Child sexual abuse may be occurring when a child:
Has difficulty walking or sitting
Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
Reports nightmares or bed wetting
Experiences a sudden change in appetite
Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
Becomes pregnant or contracts a venereal disease, particularly if under age 14
Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver
Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the parent or other adult caregiver:
Is unduly protective of the child or severely limits the child's contact with other children,
especially of the opposite sex
Is secretive and isolated
Is jealous or controlling with family members
The short-term impact of sexual abuse on children.
- fear or anxiety
- difficulties in school
- anger or hostility
- inappropriate sexualized behavior
- running away or delinquency
- poor self-esteem
- substance abuse
- difficulty with close relationships
Possible symptoms of childhood sexual abuse (there may be more, some may not
show up, no two survivors will have the same set of symptoms, age of victim during the
abuse impacts what symptoms occur)
- There are not usually physical symptoms of sexual abuse. This means that there are
some physical symptoms that are not usually detected, such as vaginal bleeding in
young girls, bruising covered by clothing, muscle pain that can only be seen when
a child is moving and can easily be attributed to other activities.
- There is no syndrome associated with child sexual abuse.
- There are no symptoms that are characteristic of the majority of sexually abused
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – can include agitated behavior, nightmares,
expression of the abuse in play, precocious sexual behavior, or a distorted view
- “Acting out” (anger or behavior problems - may or may not be sexual behaviors).
- “Acting in” (depression, withdrawing, mistrust of adults).
- Self injury or suicide - usually seen in older children and adolescents, but can be in
- Sleep problems or nightmares.
- Low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness.
Why don’t children tell?
The abuser knows what they are doing is wrong so they try to keep it hidden by threatening
their victim in some way – keeping their victim afraid of speaking out. For me it was as
simple as “Don’t tell your mother, she will be mad,” and later, my mother saying she would
"kill any man who touched me that way.” Some perpetrators threaten the child or a family
member with some form of harm or death to keep a child from talking.
There are some perpetrators that coerce a child into participating through attempts to teach
the child that these behaviors are normal or that they are a game "many other fathers play
with their daughters".
Other times it is simply that the child either does not know it is wrong or they lack the words
to tell because it has happened at an age where vocabulary is not developed enough.
A perpetrator is a person who has been determined to have caused or knowingly allowed
the maltreatment of a child. Find research on characteristics of perpetrators, including those
who commit certain types of abuse, such as juvenile sex offenders.
Characteristics of Perpetrators
Most States define perpetrators of child abuse and neglect as parents and other caretakers
(such as relatives, babysitters, and foster parents) who have harmed a child in their care. It
is important to note that States define the term "caretaker" differently. Harm caused to a
child by others (such as acquaintances or strangers) may not be considered child abuse but
rather may be considered a different type of criminal matter.