What It Is
Child sexual abuse happens when adults or older kids engage children in any kind of sexual activity. This includes:
- Having sex with a child
- Performing oral sex on a child
- Making a child perform oral sex on them
- Touching children’s private parts
- Making children touch the other person’s private parts
- Asking to see children’s private parts
- Making children look at the other person’s private parts
Sexual activities that may be less obvious but are still abusive to children include:
- Showing pornography to children
- Taking pornographic (naked) photos of children
- Sexting (sending sexually explicit texts) with children
- Commercial sexual exploitation of children (such as using them as prostitutes)
Who the Victims Are
Child sexual abuse is not limited to any one culture, ethnicity, type of family, age, or even gender:
- New research suggests that approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 20 boys report experiencing childhood sexual abuse before the age of 18.1
- The highest percentage of sexual abuse victims are under the age of nine.2
- Of the confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect in 2012, 9 percent of cases were sexual abuse (these are only reported cases; it’s difficult to know how many cases of child sexual abuse go unreported every year).3
Who the Offenders Are
Just like the victims of child sexual abuse, offenders come from all walks of life.
- “Stranger danger” is a myth: in 90 percent of cases, sexually abused children know the person abusing them.4
- Offenders can be friends, family members, neighbors, teachers, or coaches.
- Offenders are men, women, or other children—in fact, nearly 36 percent of offenders are older children or teenagers.5
- Child sexual abuse can happen anywhere children are found, such as schools, homes, sports programs, and other youth programs.
To learn more about offenders and their habits, read Offender Behaviors.
How It Affects Children
The reason it’s so important for children to tell about sexual abuse—aside from stopping the offender from doing it again—is that when sexually abused children get treatment, it can have a very positive impact on their recovery. That’s also why it’s so important to believe children when they tell and to report it as soon as possible.
And sexual abuse can have long-term negative effects. It can put kids at risk for serious problems in adulthood, such as alcohol and drug abuse, suicide attempts, mental health issues, and marital problems.6
The Bottom Line
Educate yourself and your child about sexual abuse prevention, and keep the lines of communication open. It’s a great first step to preventing sexual abuse. Watch our How to Talk with Kids About Sexual Abuse video.
- Finkelhor, D., Shattuck, A., Turner, H. A., & Hamby, S. L. (2014). The lifetime prevalence of child sexual abuse and sexual assault assessed in late adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 55(3), 329–333.
- Administration for Children and Families (ACF). (2013). Child maltreatment 2012. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/cm2012.pdf
- Snyder, H. N. (2000). Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics. National Center for Juvenile Justice NCJ 182990. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/saycrle.pdf
- Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R., & Chaffin, M. (2009). Juveniles who commit sex offenses against minors. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/227763.pdf
- Dube, S. A., Anda, R. F., Whitfield, C. L., Brown, D. W., Felitti, D. J., Dong, M., & Giles, W. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of the victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 430–437.