It has been estimated that every eight minutes, a child is sexually abused in the United States.1 Of all children in the United States who are neglected or experience abuse of any kind, approximately 8.4% experience sexual abuse.2 Further, roughly 1.2% of all child fatalities related to the mistreatment of children are thought to be a result of sexual abuse.2
These numbers only scratch the surface
While these numbers seem harrowing, they are only the beginning. Obtaining completely accurate information on childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is quite difficult, as statistics rely on the disclosure of abuse from victims and perpetrators. For various reasons, including guilt, fear, or confusion, among many others, survivors often wait years, or even decades, to disclose information on a childhood sexual abuse. Some survivors may never choose to disclose these events. This contributes to the lack of knowledge on the true scope of CSA. Many experts suggest that the numbers we have now may only scratch the surface of the issue at large.
Characteristics of childhood sexual abuse
Although the definition of CSA may change from outlet to outlet, several overarching characteristics are common: CSA involves sexual activity between an adult and a child. This abuse does not always have to include penetrative sex nor touching at all. CSA also includes the possession, creation, or sharing of child pornography, as well as encouraging a child to participate in prostitution. CSA also occurs when an adult encourages a child to participate in a sexual activity, such as masturbation, or if an adult regularly or purposefully exposes themselves to a minor. Sexual abuse can also occur between two children, specifically if there is a large age difference between the children, or if one of the children is very different in size or physical or intellectual development from the other.2-4
Childhood sexual abuse does not discriminate. It can occur to any child, regardless of age, race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, religion, or family environment. Similarly, those who commit CSA can come from a variety of backgrounds and demographic groups as well. There is no common “type” of person who regularly gets abused, nor abuses others. In the vast majority of CSA cases, the child abused knew their abuser beforehand.1 Although abusers can come in various forms and from different locations, they typically all are in a position of power above the child. This power can be through actual labels, such as a physical authority figure to the child, or it can be created through fear and manipulation.
It’s never too late to heal
If you or someone you know is a survivor of CSA, it is never too late to begin the healing process. When or how much you or a loved one chooses to share when disclosing a childhood sexual abuse or abuse pattern is completely an individual decision, with no right or wrong pathway. CSA can lead to long-term adverse health effects that can take a toll physically, mentally, and emotionally, and an individual may need professional support to manage these. There are a number of organizations, support groups, physicians, counselors, therapists, and more, that exist to provide assistance whenever and however necessary. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone.
- Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). https://www.rainn.org/articles/adult-survivors-child-sexual-abuse. Accessed December 15, 2017.
- Child Maltreatment Report-2015. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Children’s Bureau. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/child-maltreatment-2015. Published January 19, 2017. Accessed December 15, 2017.
- Defining Child Sexual Abuse. Stop It Now! http://www.stopitnow.org/ohc-content/defining-child-sexual-abuse. Accessed December 15, 2017.
- Fact Sheet: What You Need to Know About Sex Offenders. Center for Sex Offender Management, Center for Effective Public Policy. http://www.csom.org/pubs/needtoknow_fs.pdf. Published 2008. Accessed December 15, 2017.