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Child Sexual Abuse

What is child sexual abuse?

It's sexual activity with a child. Sexual abuse can be:


  • Fondling or any kind of inappropriate touching
  • Rape or attempted rape
  • Using a child to create pornography


  • Indecent exposure
  • Talking about sex to shock a child or spark his or her curiosity
  • Allowing a child to watch or hear sexual acts or materials

Incidents of abuse may occur just once or be repeated many times over several years. It's possible for a child to be sexually abused by anyone including:

  • Parents, stepparents or foster parents
  • An older brother or sister
  • Other relatives or family friends
  • A baby sitter
  • Teachers or other school staff
  • Residential or day-care staff
  • Youth activity leaders
  • Any adult or older child

Why learn about child sexual abuse?

It is more common than many people think, and its effects can be devastating. Victims of sexual abuse can be girls or boys of any age. The abuse can cause serious and long-lasting psychological harm and many times leads to shattered families.

What do sexual abusers look like?

Sexual abusers don't look different than anyone else and come from all age groups. Most abusers are men, but woman may abuse children as well. Abusers can be young or old, rich or poor, and can come from all ethnic backgrounds.

Why do people abuse?

The causes of sexual abuse vary from person to person. People with low self-esteem or a need to control may sexually abuse a child in order to feel powerful and in control. The abuse may also be in response to a stressful event or situation, however, it may develop into a pattern that involves serious sexual disorders. Many abusers were themselves abused as children. This pattern of abuse may be passed from one generation to the next.

The effects of sexual abuse on a child can be serious and long lasting. Some of these effects may not even become obvious until the child has become an adult. These effects include, but are not limited to:

Emotional or Psychological Harm

  • Withdrawal, seductive or aggressive behavior
  • Running away
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion about identity
  • Nightmares or trouble sleeping

Physical Harm

  • Injury to the genital area
  • Painful urination or stomach-aches
  • Sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS

Feelings of Guilt
Victim may need professional counseling to understand that he or she is not to blame for the abuse.

A Loss of Trust
Victims of abuse may have trouble forming close relationships.

Self-Destructive Behavior
Some children feel they should "pay" for their involvement in the abuse. They may turn to prostitution, drugs, alcohol and/or commit suicide.

A Loss of Self-Esteem
Many victims feel worthless and unlovable. It affects their schoolwork and their current personal relationships.

Sexual Problems
Victims may develop unhealthy attitudes about sex that negatively affect their future relationships.

Female victims who have reached puberty at the time of the abuse are at risk for pregnancy.

In an attempt to help prevent child abuse, you should:

  • Discuss sexuality with your children
  • Teach your child to say "no" if someone should try to touch sexual parts of their body.
  • Be alert for clues in your child's behavior.
  • Listen closely to your child. They may give a verbal clue that something is wrong.
  • Let children know they can speak openly with you. Urge them not to keep it inside if something has happened to them that is confusing or is making them uncomfortable.

If a child is approached or abused, tell them to:

  • Get as far away from that person as possible
  • Say "no" to anyone who tries to abuse them
  • Run for help
  • Tell an adult what has happened to them as soon as possible.

If you think a child has been sexually abused, you should:

  • Remain calm and control your emotions
    Fear and anger are normal reactions, but they can frighten a child.
  • Give emotional support
    Reassure the child that no harm will come from reporting the incident.
  • Don't deny the problem
    Never assume the child is making anything up during their re-counting of the incident.
  • Get information
    Find out as much as you can about what happened before, during and after the incident.
  • Get medical assistance
    Contact a health-care provider promptly for treatment of any physical injuries.
  • Report the abuse
    Contact the police.