Child sex abuse

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It is estimated that hundreds and thousands of children are sexually abused each year by a parent, a relative or someone well known to them. The abuse includes a wide range of actions between a child and an adult or older child. Often these involve body contact, but not always. Even using a child for pornography is a form of child sex abuse.


Why should I be aware of this?

Child sexual abuse can take place within the family, by a parent, step-parent, sibling or other relative; or outside the home, for example, by a friend, neighbor, child care person, teacher, or stranger. When sexual abuse has occurred, a child can develop a variety of distressing feelings, thoughts and behaviors.

The abuse can continue for years. And when it finally ends it when the abuse is over, it does not end the child’s emotional stress. The victims continue to experience confusion, shame, guilt, anger and poor self esteem. These feelings are likely to continue thoughout the persons life.

All about child sex abuse

  • Child sexual abuse is characterized by deception, force or coercion. The American Medical Association defines child sexual abuse as "the engagement of a child in sexual activities for which the child is developmentally unprepared and cannot give informed consented.”
  • Sexual abuse can include fondling, genital exposure, intimate kissing, forced masturbation oral, penile or digital penetration of the mouth, vagina or anus. Child prostitution is also a form of child sexual abuse.
  • Sexual abuse takes place in rural, urban and suburban areas and among all ethnic, racial and socioeconomic groups.
  • Most children are abused by someone known to them. A study in the US found 96 percent of the raped children in the age group of 12 knew the attacker. Among them 20 percent were fathers, 16 percent relatives, 50 percent acquaintances or friends and four percent strangers. Among women 18 or older, 12 percent were raped by a family member, 33 percent by a stranger and 55 percent by an acquaintance.
  • Abuse typically continues for about four years and escalates over time.
  • More than 50 percent of the victims are adolescents and it was found that in 82 percent of the cases the offender was a heterosexual partner of a close relative of the child.
  • Children are most vulnerable between ages 8 and 12. For boys the average age for abuse is 9.9 years and for girls 9.6 years. In 20 percent of the cases victimization occurs before the age of eight.
  • Child sex abuse may be underreported because many people are afraid or ashamed to reveal victimization.
  • The National Resource Council estimates the percent of the U.S. population which has been sexually abused to range from a low of 20-24 percent to a high of 54-62 percent of the population. The higher incidence includes abuse without touching. The largest retrospective study on the prevalence of child sexual abuse found 27 percent of women and 16 percent of men reported abuse.
  • Studies examining victimization of boys have recorded rates ranging from 3 to 31 percent of all men.

Who are at greater risk?

  • Those who are most at risk of sexual abuse are girls having: few friends, absent or unavailable parents, a stepfather and when there is conflict with or between parents.
  • When there exists separate living arrangements from both biological parents; mental illness, alcoholic or drug abuse in the family
  • A parent who was physically or sexually abused as a child is also a big risk factor.
  • Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth may be at greater risk because they tend to be socially isolated and are easier targets.

Most under-reported crime

Experts believe that child sex abuse has always occurred and still exists in all classes of people. With increased public awareness more cases are being reported today, but still it remains as the most under-reported of crimes.

Child sex abuse and after-effects

Victims of child sex abuse often suffer long-term psychological and social trauma.

  • Those who suffer the most are those abused at younger age and less mature, where the duration of abuse is longer, occurrence of penetration, use of force, abuse by a parent-figure or much older perpetrator, lack of support upon disclosure and absence of a caring non-abusing parent.
  • Effects of child abuse may include low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, fear, hostility, chronic tension, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, self harm or suicidal behavior, post traumatic stress disorder, dissociation, multiple personality disorder, repeat victimization, running away, criminal behavior, academic problems, substance abuse and prostitution.
  • Sexual abuse survivors are at higher risk for mental health and social functioning problems resulting from feelings of powerlessness, guilt, shame, stigmatization and low self-esteem.

What can I do?

Speak up

Our confusion and on our reluctance to acknowledge child abuse is happening and speaking up against it encourages the abuser.

Learn to keep children safe

As a first step set clear boundaries and limits. Everyone should speak up when these limits are crossed. It is important to teach children about safety. It is more important that we know and are aware of ways to keep our children safe.

Watch out for any inappropriate behaviors

Watch out for inappropriate behavior from other adults or older youth as children will not be able to protect themselves because of their inability to recognize such behavior.

Keep watch on children’s use of technology

Keep a close watch on your children’s use of Internet, email, instant messaging, webcam use, peer-to-peer and social networking sites, and cell use, including photo exchanges. Ensure they do not stumble upon inappropriate or possibly dangerous situations and exchanges.

Ninety degrees: Child sex offender – Mad or Bad?

Everyone agrees that child sex offenders are dangerous to know but no one is sure, any longer, whether he is bad or mad. There is growing scientific evidence which suggest that people are not equally responsible for what they do. A lot of their actions are moved by individual biology and the environment they live in. Brain structure and brain chemistry of some people are such that they are not able to exercise control over their impulses and are more inclined to aggression. It is reported that brain pathways are altered by bad childhood experiences, specially experiences with damaged parents. With this belief gaining currency the foundation stone of social morality is threatened. The idea that we are all equally responsible for what we do and all equally culpable for our crimes runs the risk of being eroded. While some people believe that child sex offenders deserve the worst of punishment, others believe that they should be dealt with sympathy as they too have been abused.


There is, apparently, some evidence that between 20%-25% of the supposedly normal male population feel sexually attracted to children, according at least to a discussion in the US Archives of Sexual Behaviour of 2002, and react to “paedophilic” stimuli. There seems to be little or no agreement about what causes paedophilia. The old theory that child abuse itself was an important factor has fallen by the scientific wayside. The existence of a cycle of sexual abuse from generation to generation has not been established. Some studies using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain suggest that paedophilic men tend to have several differences in brain structure from other men and have one or more neurological characteristics at birth that could increase the likelihood of paedophilia. However, for every one of these studies there is a crowd of experts to disagree with it. The only point upon which most experts seem to agree is that there is no treatment which can cure paedophilia. The disorder is chronic and lifelong.


  • According to a 1996 National Institute of Justice study each year child sexual abuse in America costs the nation $23 billion
  • Victims of child sexual abuse generally spend more on psychiatric care and medical services throughout their lives. Some victims of child sexual abuse require more expensive special educational services. Child sexual abuse causes lost potential and productivity. These expenses, which would not be necessary if not for sexual abuse, are a financial drain to each and every one of us.


  • Child Sexual Abuse I: An Overview
  • Gary Glitter - mad, bad or just dangerous to know?
  • Paedophilia

See also