What is child sexual
abuse is any interaction between a child and
an adult (or another child) in which the child
is used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator
or an observer. Sexual abuse can include both
touching and non-touching behaviors. Touching
behaviors may involve touching of the vagina,
penis, breasts or buttocks, oral-genital contact,
or sexual intercourse. Non-touching behaviors
can include voyeurism (trying to look at a child’s
naked body), exhibitionism, or exposure to pornography.
Abusers often do not use physical force, but
may use play, deception, threats, or other forms
of coercion to engage children and maintain
their silence. Abusers frequently employ persuasive
and manipulative tactics—referred to as
“grooming”—such as buying
gifts or arranging special activities, which
can further confuse the victim.
is sexually abused?
all ages, races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds
are vulnerable to sexual abuse. Child sexual
abuse affects both girls and boys across all
neighborhoods, communities and countries around
can you tell if a child is being (or has been)
have been sexually abused may display a range
of emotional and behavioral reactions characteristic
of children who have experienced trauma. These
Increased occurrence of nightmares or other
Anxiety • Depression
New words for private body parts
Sexual activity with toys or other children
Not wanting to be left alone with a particular
sexually abused children exhibit behavioral
and emotional changes, many others do not. It
is therefore critical to focus not only on detection,
but on prevention and communication—by
educating children about body safety, by teaching
them about healthy body boundaries, and by encouraging
open communication about sexual matters.
don’t children tell about sexual abuse?
There are many
reasons children do not disclose being sexually
Threats of bodily harm (to the child and/or
the child’s family)
Fear of being removed from the home
Fear of not being believed
Shame or guilt
If the abuser
is someone the child or the family cares about,
the child may worry about getting that person
in trouble. In addition, children often believe
that the sexual abuse was their own fault and
may not disclose for fear of getting in trouble
themselves. Very young children may not have
the language skills to communicate about the
abuse or may not understand that the actions
of that perpetrator are abusive, particularly
if the sexual abuse is made into a game.
can you do if a child discloses that he or she
is being (or has been) sexually abused?
If a child discloses
abuse, it is critical to stay calm, listen carefully,
and NEVER blame the child. Thank the child for
telling you and reassure him or her of your
support. Please remember to call for help immediately.
If you know
or suspect that a child is being or has been
sexually abused, please call the federally funded
Child Welfare Information Gateway at 1.800.4.A.CHILD
(1.800.422.4453) or visit www.childwelfare.gov/responding/how.cfm.
If you need
immediate assistance, call 911.
Sexual Abuse Myths and Facts Myth:
abuse is a rare experience.
sexual abuse is not rare. Research indicates
that as many as 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of
6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse
before the age of 18. However, because child
sexual abuse is by its very nature secretive,
many of these cases are never reported.
Myth: A child
is most likely to be sexually abused by a stranger.
are most often sexually abused by someone they
know and trust. Ninety-three percent of reported
cases of child sexual abuse are committed by
individuals who are considered part of the victim’s
“circle of trust.”
do not need to know about child sexual abuse
and would be frightened if educated about it.
educational programs are available to teach
young children about the difference between
healthy and unhealthy touches. These programs
can help children develop basic safety skills
in a way that is helpful rather than frightening.
For more information on educating young children,
see Lets Talk About Taking Care of You: An Educational
Book About Body Safety, available at www.hope4families.com/Lets_Talk_Book_Information.html.
who are sexually abused will never recover.
Fact: Many children
are quite resilient, and with a combination
of support from their parents or caregivers
and effective counseling, they can and do recover
from such experiences.
are almost always sexually abused by adults.
indicate that up to one third of cases of child
sexual abuse are perpetrated by individuals
under the age of 18. While some degree of sexual
curiosity and exploration is to be expected
between children of about the same age, when
one child coerces another to engage in adult-like
sexual activities, the behavior is unhealthy
and abusive. Both the abuser and the victim
can benefit from counseling.
Myth: Talking about sexual abuse with a child
who has suffered such an experience will only
make it worse.
children often choose not to talk about their
abuse, there is no evidence that encouraging
children to talk about sexual abuse will make
them feel worse. On the contrary, research shows
that treatment from a mental health professional
can minimize the physical, emotional, and social
problems of abused children by allowing them
to appropriately process their feelings and
To Help Protect Children From Sexual Abuse
teach children accurate names of private body
focusing exclusively on “stranger danger.”
Keep in mind that most children are abused by
someone they know and trust.
children about body safety and healthy body
boundaries early (in preschool) and often.
children the difference between healthy and
the message that children always have the right
to make decisions about their bodies. Empower
them to say no when they do not want to be touched,
even in non-sexual ways (e.g., politely refusing
hugs) and to say no to touching others.
sure children know that adults and older children
never need help with their private body parts
(e.g., bathing or going to the bathroom.)
children about the difference between good secrets
(like surprise parties—which are okay
because they are not kept secret for long) and
bad secrets (those that the child is supposed
to keep secret forever, which are not okay).
If you feel
uneasy leaving a child with someone, don’t
do it. If you’re concerned about possible
sexual abuse, ask questions. For more information,
visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network
(NCTSN) at www.nctsn.org.
THE BEST TIME TO TALK TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT SEXUAL
ABUSE IS NOW.