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8 Things You Should Know About Child Sexual Abuse

Did you know that child sexual abuse affects every race, every income level, every age, and every neighborhood?

Did you know that child sexual abuse affects every race, every income level, every age, and every neighborhood?

Chances are, you know someone who is a survivor of child sexual abuse. The question isn’t whether there are children in your community who have experienced or are experiencing abuse, the question is how many.

So let’s talk about rates of child sexual abuse and how it happens.

Related: What This Organization is Doing to Help Child Sexual Abuse Survivors Heal

1. More than 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 20 boys are sexually abused or assaulted before they turn 18, according to an analysis of national surveys in the U.S.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. The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 55(3), 329–333. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.12.026Copy  While child sexual exploitation can be a difficult topic to discuss, education and awareness can help to prevent and combat further harm.

2. One study revealed that 1 in 3 children won’t disclose sexual abuse until adulthood (if they choose to disclose it at all). Among those least likely to disclose abuse are younger children, male victims, and those who have never before disclosed abuse.Azzopardi, C., Eirich, R., Rash, C. L., MacDonald, S., & Madigan, S. (2019). A meta-analysis of the prevalence of child sexual abuse disclosure in forensic settings. Child Abuse & Neglect, 93, 291-304. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.11.020Copy 

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3. According to one longitudinal study, 85.8% of child sexual abuse survivors developed mental health issues, 44% experienced suicide ideation, 14.2% had attempted suicide, 19.1% experienced alcohol dependence, and 22% experienced illicit substance addiction.Fergusson, D. M., McLeod, G. F., & Horwood, L. J. (2013). Childhood sexual abuse and adult developmental outcomes: findings from a 30-year longitudinal study in New Zealand. Child abuse & neglect, 37(9), 664–674. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.03.013Copy 

4.  While most estimates of child sexual abuse focus primarily on contact abuse, online forms of child sexual exploitation are becoming increasingly common and have increased during the pandemic. Through the use of technology, abusers can exploit children without ever coming into physical contact with them.ECPAT. (2021). Summary paper on online child sexual exploitation.ECPAT. Retrieved from https://ecpat.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/ECPAT-Summary-paper-on-Online-Child-Sexual-Exploitation-2020.pdfCopy Parks, A., Sparre, C., Söderquist, E., Arver, S., Andersson, G., Kaldo, V., Görts-Öberg, K., Rahm, C. (2020). Illegal online sexual behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic: A call for action based on experiences from the ongoing prevent it research study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(5), 1433-1435. doi:10.1007/s10508-020-01750-7Copy 

Related: This Child Abuse Expert Says Many Abusers Have Escalating Violent Porn Habits

5. Technology is increasingly being used to groom young people for sexual abuse. According to research on victims who were trafficked in 2015, over half (55%) met their traffickers through the use of technology (i.e. online enticement, texting, app usage).Bouché, V. (2018). Survivor insights: The role of technology in domestic minor sex trafficking. Thorn. Retrieved from https://www.thorn.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Thorn_Survivor_Insights_090519.pdfCopy  

6. Another increasingly common form of child sexual exploitation is image-based abuse (sometimes called “revenge porn”) and/or child sexual exploitation material (sometimes called “child porn” or “CSEM”). With this in mind, it’s important to remember that:

  • Any explicit content of a minor is legally considered “child pornography,” even if a child takes an image or video of themself.
  • 1 in 3 underage teens say they have seen nonconsensually shared nudes of other minors.Thorn. (2020). Thorn research: Understanding sexually explicit images, self-produced by children. Retrieved from https://www.thorn.org/blog/thorn-research-understanding-sexually-explicit-images-self-produced-by-children/Copy 

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7. The Internet Watch Foundation recently reported that during 2020, approximately 44% of all child sexual abuse material reported to the IWF involved self-generated material. That’s a 16% increase from 2019 when only a third of reports involved self-generated imagery.Internet Watch Foundation. (2021). The annual report 2020: Self-generated child sexual abuse. Retrieved from https://annualreport2020.iwf.org.uk/trends/international/selfgeneratedCopy 

Related: Report Reveals One-Third of Online Child Sexual Abuse Images are Posted By Kids Themselves

8. While there’s no way to eliminate all chances of abuse for yourself or your loved ones, working to educate yourself on consent, internet safety, abuse prevention, and recognizing the signs of abuse can help reduce risk.

If you have experienced or are experiencing sexual abuse, please know that you are not alone and that healing is absolutely possible. You can find healing resources at Saprea.org and social support at FindingHope.org.

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