Facts about Sexual Abuse

  • Approximately 35% of women and 20% of men in the US were victims of sexual abuse as children.
  • Child sexual abuse is not rare. Retrospective 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.
  • Twenty-three percent of reported cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by individuals under the age of 18.
  • 85% of child abuse takes place with a family member or friend in the home.
  • Child sexual abuse is reported up to 80,000 times a year, but, because the children are afraid to tell and the legal procedure for validating the episode is difficult, the number of unreported instances is far greater.
  • Almost all of the children will be abused by someone they know and trust: a family member, a family friend, or a caretaker.
  • The abuse often begins gradually (fondling) and increases over time.
  • Incestuous behavior is not confined to sexual intercourse. Incest can include nudity, disrobing, genital exposure, kissing, fondling, digital penetration, and sodomy.
  • Incest survives on secrecy. Most victims feel isolated from the rest of the world. The effects of incest are devastating. Short-term ones include behavioral problems, addictions, sexual promiscuity, and a sudden drop in grades. Long-term effects include anxiety, chronic depression, sleep disorders.

How To Help Protect Children From Sexual Abuse

  • Teach children accurate names of private body parts.
  • Avoid focusing exclusively on “stranger danger.” Keep in mind that most children are abused by someone they know and trust.
  • Teach children about body safety and the difference between “okay” and “not okay” touches.
  • Let children know that they 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.
  • Make sure children know that adults and older children never need help with their private body parts (e.g., bathing or going to the bathroom).
  • Teach children to take care of their own private parts (i.e., bathing, wiping after bathroom use) so they don’t have to rely on adults or older children for help.
  • Educate 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).
  • Trust your instincts! If you feel uneasy about leaving a child with someone, don’t do it. If you’re concerned about possible sexual abuse, ask questions.