Child Sexual Abuse Facts & Resources

By educating the community about prevention, intervention and treatment, The CAC is addressing the devastating reality of child sexual abuse. We all want to believe that our children are safe and that we can protect them from harm, but child sexual abuse is real, and recovery begins with the truth. Use the resources in this section to educate yourself with the facts about child abuse to protect children, heal families, and prevent child sexual abuse and sex trafficking.

Check out the resources below and feel free to contact The CAC with any questions or comments.

Child sexual abuse is an issue that makes people extremely uncomfortable, because it hurts to think about anyone harming children. However, unreported or untreated child sexual abuse not only scars children and destroys families, it also leaves offenders free to abuse and cripple future generations.

What is Child Sexual Abuse?

It is any sexual activity between adults and minors or between two minors when one forces it on the other. This includes sexual touching and non-touching acts like exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, photography of a child for sexual gratification, solicitation of a child for prostitution, voyeurism and communication in a sexual way by phone, Internet or face-to-face. It is a crime punishable by law that must be reported.

How often does Child Sexual Abuse take place?

FACT: The real prevalence of child sexual abuse is not known because so many victims do not disclose or report their abuse. Researchers have suggested rates varying from 1% to 35%. Most professionals in the field of abuse use rates from 8% to 20%.

FACT: Even if the true prevalence of child sexual abuse is not known, most will agree that there will be 500,000 babies born in the US this year that will be sexually abused before they turn 18 if we do not prevent it.

  • Adult retrospective studies show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006). This means there are more than 42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S.
  • The primary reason that the public is not sufficiently aware of child sexual abuse as a problem is that 73% of child victims do not tell anyone about the abuse for at least a year. 45% of victims do not tell anyone for at least 5 years. Some never disclose (Smith et al., 2000; Broman-Fulks et al., 2007

FACT: Most people think of adult rape as a crime of great proportion and significance. Most are unaware that children are victimized at a much higher rate than adults.

  • Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) occur to children ages 17 and under (Snyder, 2000).
  • Youths have higher rates of sexual assault victimization than adults. In 2000, the sexual assault victimization rate for youths 12 to 17 was 2.3 times higher than for adults (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000).

Are there certain factors that make a child more vulnerable to Child Sexual Abuse?

FACT: Children of every gender, age, race, ethnicity, background, socioeconomic status and family structure are at risk. No child is immune.

FACT: Family and acquaintance child sexual abuse perpetrators have reported that they look for specific characteristics in the children they choose to abuse.

  • Perpetrators report that they look for passive, quiet, troubled, lonely children from single parent or broken homes (Budin & Johnson 1989).
  • Perpetrators frequently seek out children who are particularly trusting (Conte et al., 1987) and work proactively to establish a trusting relationship before abusing them (Budin & Johnson, 1989; Conte, Wolfe, & Smith, 1989; Elliott et al., 1995; Warner-Kearney, 1987). Not infrequently, this extends to establishing a trusting relationship with the victim’s family as well (Elliott et al., 1995).

FACT: There are child and family characteristics that significantly heighten or lower risk of sexual abuse. The following risk factors are based on reported and identified cases of abuse.

  • Family structure is the most important risk factor in child sexual abuse. Children who live with two married biological parents are at low risk for abuse. The risk increases when children live with step-parents or a single parent. Children living without either parent (foster children) are 10 times more likely to be sexually abused than children that live with both biological parents. Children who live with a single parent that has a live-in partner are at the highest risk: they are 20 times more likely to be victims of child sexual abuse than children living with both biological parents (Sedlack, et. al., 2010).
  • Gender is also a major factor in sexual abuse. Females are 5 times more likely to be abused than males (Sedlack, et. al., 2010). The age of the male being abused also plays a part. 8% of victims age 12-17 are male. 26% of victims under the age of 12 are male (Snyder, 2000).
  • Age is a significant factor in sexual abuse. While there is risk for children of all ages, children are most vulnerable to abuse between the ages of 7 and 13 (Finkelhor, 1994). The median age for reported abuse is 9 years old (Putnam, 2003). However, more than 20% of children are sexually abused before the age of 8 (Snyder, 2000).
  • Race and ethnicity are an important factor in identified sexual abuse. African American children have almost twice the risk of sexual abuse than white children. Children of Hispanic ethnicity have a slightly greater risk than non-Hispanic white children (Sedlack, et. al., 2010).
  • The risk for sexual abuse is tripled for children whose parent(s) are not in the labor force (Sedlack, et. al., 2010).
  • Children in low socioeconomic status households are 3 times as likely to be identified as a victim of child abuse (Sedlack, et. al., 2010).
  • Most studies have reported that children with disabilities are at greater risk for sexual abuse. The latest research identified incidents of child sexual abuse involving children with disabilities at only half the rate of their non-disabled peers.
  • Children who live in rural areas are almost 2 times more likely to be identified as victims of child sexual abuse (Sedlack, et. al., 2010).
  • Children who witness or are the victim of other crimes are significantly more likely to be sexually abused (Finkelhor, 2010).

Who are the Perpetrators?

Most child sexual abusers are men, and may be respected members of the community drawn to settings where they gain easy access to children like schools, clubs and churches. They come from all age groups, races, religions and socioeconomic classes. Most victims know and trust their abusers. It isn’t strangers our children have to fear most. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 21% of all paroled sex offenders in Texas reside in Harris County.

When, Where and How does Child Sexual Abuse happen?

FACT: Many perpetrators “groom” victims and their families.

  • Many establish a trusting relationship with the victim’s family (Elliott et al., 1995), in order to gain access to the child (Berliner & Conte, 1990; Conte et al., 1989).
  • Perpetrators employ successively inappropriate comments and increasingly inappropriate touches and behaviors so insidious that the abuse is often well under way before the child recognizes the situation as sexual or inappropriate (Berliner & Conte, 1990; Conte et al., 1989).
  • Strategies employed to gain the compliance of victims include the addition and withdrawal of inducements (attention, material goods, and privileges), misrepresentation of society’s morals and standards and/or the abusive acts themselves, and externalization of responsibility for the abuse onto the victim (Berliner & Conte, 1990; Conte et al., 1989).
  • 35% of convicted child molesters use threats of violence to keep children from disclosing the abuse. General threats and physical force are also used to prevent detection (Ohio Department of Corrections, 1992).

FACT: Child sexual abuse often takes place under specific, often surprising circumstances. It is helpful to know these circumstances because it allows for the development of strategies to avoid child sexual abuse.

  • 81% of child sexual abuse incidents for all ages occur in one-perpetrator/one-child circumstances. 6-11 year old children are most likely (23%) to be abused in multi-victim circumstances (Snyder, 2000).
  • Most sexual abuse of children occurs in a residence, typically that of the victim or perpetrator. 84% of sexual victimization of children under age 12 occurs in a residence. Even older children are most likely to be assaulted in a residence. 71% of sexual assaults on children age 12-17 occur in a residence (Snyder, 2000).
  • Sexual assaults on children are most likely to occur at 8 a.m., noon and 3-4 p.m. For older children, ages 12-17, there is also a peak in assaults in the late evening hours (Snyder, 2000).
  • 1 in 7 incidents of sexual assault perpetrated by juveniles occur on school days in the after-school hours between 3 and 7 p.m., with a peak from 3 – 4 pm (Snyder, 2000).

What are the Signs of Possible Sexual Abuse?

Most victims do not display physical evidence of their abuse because of the body’s ability to heal rapidly. However, any genital irritation, infections or painful bowel movements should be investigated immediately. Behavioral signs are more common and can include depression, anxiety, anger, loss of appetite, withdrawal from normal activities, substance abuse, self-mutilation, fear of certain places or people, bed-wetting, night sweats, nightmares and thoughts of suicide. Also be aware of sexual acting out and language that is not age-appropriate.

What are the Long Term Consequences of Child Sexual Abuse for Society?

Few have ever given thought to the tremendous impact child sexual abuse has on the economy and social fabric of our society. Child sexual abuse is at the root of many societal problems. If we examine each of the common individual consequences of child sexual abuse in light of the prevalence rate, we can see how child sexual abuse has ramifications for each and every one of us.

FACT: Child sexual abuse plays an important role in the cost of mental health services.

  • The direct cost of mental health is more than $97 billion annually in 2010 dollars (Mark, et. al., 1998). Indirect costs add another $110 billion or more annually in 2010 dollars (Rice & Miller, 1996). If child sexual abuse victims have a doubled risk for mental health conditions (Rohde, et. al., 2008; Dube,et. al., 2005; Waldrop, et. al., 2007; Day, et. al., 2003; Kendler, et. al., 2000; Voeltanz, et. al., 1999), logic suggests that child sexual abuse is responsible for annual mental health costs of at least $20 billion.

FACT: Teen pregnancy is a long-term, expensive societal problem. Child sexual abuse is a major factor in teenage pregnancy rates.

  • The U.S. government estimates that teen pregnancy costs the nation over $9 billion annually (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2004). If the applicable research (Noll, Shenk, & Putnam, 2009) is accurate, logic suggests that over $2 billion of this is attributable to child sexual abuse.

FACT: Over-sexualized behavior, common for child sexual abuse victims, can lead to an increased risk of sexually-transmitted diseases.

  • Sexually-transmitted diseases cost this nation $8.4 billion annually (Kaiser Family Foundation, 1997). If the research is accurate (Zierler, et. al., 1991: Allers, et. al., 1993; Dekker, et. al., 1990), logic tells us that over $1.5 billion of this is attributable to child sexual abuse.