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About Child Sexual Abuse

Childhood can be a time of joy, laughter, and play.  Many children learn to depend on others for safety, comfort, and love, but unfortunately, many others learn that the world is a dangerous place where no one can be trusted. Children are especially vulnerable to abuse because of their physical size, their limited understanding of the world, and the fact that they depend on others to provide  a safe environment for them.

What is child sexual abuse?

Often a traumatic experience for children and teens, child sexual abuse is a criminal offense punishable by law in many societies.

Child sexual abuse includes: 

  • any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors, when one exerts power over the other

  • forcing, coercing or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act

  • non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyeurism, and communicating in a sexual manner by phone or Internet

Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults involve victims under the age of 17.

1 in 7 girls and 1 in 25 boys will be sexually abused as children.  Girls are 5x more likely to become victims of sexual abuse, but there is evidence to suggest that boys may be less likely to disclose abuse so the incident rate may in fact be higher than research indicates.

Children may not disclose abuse for a long time after an incident occurs, and some children never tell. The fear, guilt, shame, and confusion that child victims feel can make it extremely difficult to disclose. 

.  .  .  .

40% of children disclose to a friend instead of an adult, which means that even after disclosure, many incidents of abuse go unreported. 

Almost 80% initially deny abuse or are tentative in disclosing if asked. Of those who do disclose, approximately 75% disclose accidentally. 

More than 20% of children who disclose eventually recant, or "take it back", even though the abuse did actually occur. Children may recant because it feels like their situation worsened after they disclosed, like their parents divorced or they were taken out of the home.


90% of victims of sexual abuse are abused by someone they know & trust

60%  are abused by someone the family trusts

40%  are abused by an older, more powerful child

30%  are abused by someone in their family

Sexual abuse is the most prevalent health problem children face with the most serious array of consequences.

In the short term, sexually abused children are likely to experience post-traumatic stress, behavior problems at school/ home, depression, anxiety, and sexual behavior problems.

Sexually abused children who keep it a secret or who "tell" and are not believed are at greater risk than the general population for psychological, emotional, social, and physical problems often lasting into adulthood. 

  • 70-80% of sexual abuse survivors report excessive drug and alcohol use.
  • Males who have been sexually abused are more likely to violently victimize others.
  • Women who report childhood rape are 3x more likely to become pregnant before age 18.
  • Nearly 50% of women in prison state that they were abused as children
  • Victims of child sexual abuse are more likely to experience depression as adults. 
    • Adults with a history of child sexual abuse are more than twice as likely to report a suicide attempt.
    • 24 year-old women who were sexually abused as children were four times more likely than their non-abused peers to be diagnosed with an eating disorder
    • Middle-aged women who were sexually abused as children were twice as likely to be obese when compared with their non-abused peers.
    • Generally, adult victims of child sexual abuse have higher rates of health care utilization and report significantly more health complaints compared to adults without a child sexual abuse history

    Statistics courtesy of Darkness to Light

    Copyright Children's Advocacy Centers of Michigan. All rights reserved.