Sexual Child Abuse

Child sexual abuse or child molestation is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Forms of child sexual abuse include engaging in sexual activities with a child (whether by asking or pressuring, or by other means), indecent exposure (of the genitals, female nipples, etc.), child grooming, or using a child to produce child pornography.

Child sexual abuse can occur in a variety of settings, including home, school, or work (in places where child labor is common). The effects of child sexual abuse can include depression, anxiety, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, propensity to further victimization in adulthood, and physical injury to the child, among other problems. Sexual abuse by a family member is a form of incest and can result in more serious and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest.

Types: Child sexual abuse includes a variety of sexual offenses, including:

  • sexual assault – a term defining offenses in which an adult uses a minor for the purpose of sexual gratification; for example, rape (including sodomy), and sexual penetration with an object. Most U.S. states include, in their definitions of sexual assault, any penetrative contact of a minor’s body, however slight, if the contact is performed for the purpose of sexual gratification.
  • sexual exploitation – a term defining offenses in which an adult victimizes a minor for advancement, sexual gratification, or profit; for example, prostituting a child, and creating or trafficking in child pornography.
  • sexual grooming – a term defining the social conduct of a potential child sex offender who seeks to make a minor more accepting of their advances, for example in an online chat room.

Children who received supportive responses following disclosure had less traumatic symptoms and were abused for a shorter period of time than children who did not receive support. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry provides guidelines for what to say to the victim and what to do following the disclosure.

Offenders: Offenders are more likely to be relatives or acquaintances of their victim than strangers. More offenders are male than female, though the percentage varies between studies. One study of a non-clinical population found that, among those in their sample that had been molested, as many as a third were molested by women.

SEXUAL CHILD ABUSE STATISTICS:

  • 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
  • Over 58,000 children were sexually abused last year.
  • 8.3 % of reported child abuse cases were sexual abuse.
  • 34% of people who sexually abuse a child are family members.
  • 12.3% of girls were age 10 or younger at the time of their first rape/victimization, and 30% of girls were between the ages of 11 and 17.
  • 27.8% of boys were age 10 or younger at the time of their first rape/victimization.
  • 96% of people who sexually abuse children are male, and 76.8% of people who sexually abuse children are adults.
  • 325,000 children are at risk of becoming victims of commercial child sexual exploitation each year.
  • Caregiver alcohol or drug abuse is a child abuse risk factor putting kids at much higher risk for being abused.
  • The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12 to 14 years old, and the average age for boys is 11 to 13 years old.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Sexual behavior or knowledge that's inappropriate for the child's age
  • Pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection
  • Blood in the child's underwear
  • Statements that he or she was sexually abused
  • Trouble walking or sitting or complaints of genital pain
  • Abuse of other children sexually

Effects

Child sexual abuse can result in both short-term and long-term harm, including psychopathology in later life. Indicators and effects include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, poor self-esteem, somatization, sleep disturbances, and dissociative and anxiety disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Physical: Depending on the age and size of the child, and the degree of force used, child sexual abuse may cause internal lacerations and bleeding. In severe cases, damage to internal organs may occur, which, in some cases, may cause death.
  • Infections: Child sexual abuse may cause infections and sexually transmitted diseases. Due to a lack of sufficient vaginal fluid, chances of infections can heighten depending on the age and size of the child. Vaginitis has also been reported.
  • Neurological damage: research has shown that stress caused by sexual abuse causes notable changes in brain functioning and development. Various studies have suggested that severe child sexual abuse may have a deleterious effect on brain development. 

Click here to learn what you can do to stop sexual child abuse.

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