This page will give you an understanding of child sexual abuse


Future pages will:
  • provide you with specific personal safety skills, techniques and examples to use with your children
  • encourage you to portray the world to your children as a positive place where they can feel safe
  • lesson your anxiety about your children’s safety so you can allow them the freedom of movement they need as they grow up.


There is lots of data about child sexual abuse, but the two statistics that matter most to parents are:
  • 1 in every 4 girls and 1 in every 6 boys is sexually abused by age 18
  • 85-90% of that abuse takes place by someone the child and family know and trust

Sexual abuse is any sexual contact with a child or the use of a child for the sexual pleasure of someone else. This may include exposing private parts to the child or asking the child to expose him or herself, fondling of the genitals or requests for the child to do so, oral sex or attempts to enter the vagina or anus with fingers, objects or penis, although actual penetration is rarely achieved.



  • 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused in some way by the age of 18 (Kinsey, 1953; Finkelhor, 1979)
  • 10% of those children are preschoolers (Children’s Hospital, D.C.)
  • 85-90% involve a perpetrator known to the child (Groth, 1982; DeFrancis, 1969; Russell, 1983)
  • 35% involve a family member (King County Rape Relief, Washington)
  • Only 10% of the offenses involve physical violence (Jaffee, 1975)
  • 50% of all assaults take place in the home of the child or the offender (Sanford, 1980)
  • The average offender is involved with over 70 children in his or her “career” of offending (Sanford, 1980, Abel and Becker, 1980)


Physical Indicators

  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Torn clothing,
  • Stained or bloody underwear
  • Pain or itching in genital area
  • Venereal disease, especially in preteens
  • Pregnancy


Behavioral Indicators in Child

Children often do not tell us with words that they have been sexually abused, or that they have successfully resisted an assault.   They hesitate to talk about what has happened for many reasons, including their relationship to the offender, fear of the consequences, retaliation or uncertainty about whether or not they will be believed.

Any one of the following signs or changes in behavior could indicate that there has been a sexual assault or it could be indicative of another problem. Whatever has caused a child’s change in behavior should be explored.

  • Sudden reluctance to go someplace or be with someone
  • Inappropriate displays of affection
  • Sexual acting out
  • Sudden use of sexual terms or new names for body parts
  • Discomfort or rejection of typical family affection
  • Sleep problems, including: insomnia, nightmares, refusal to sleep alone or suddenly insisting on a night light
  • Regressive behaviors, including: thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, infantile behaviors or other signs of dependency
  • Extreme clinginess or other signs of fearfulness
  • A sudden change in personality
  • Problems in school
  • Unwilling to participate in or change clothing for gym class at school
  • Runs away from home
  • Bizarre or unusual sophistication pertaining to sexual behavior or knowledge, including sexual acting out
  • Reports sexual assault by parent or guardian


Indicators of Sexually Abusive Parent/Guardian

  • Overly protective or jealous of child and friends
  • Abuses alcohol or other drugs
  • Encourages exhibitionism in child
  • Voyeuristic, seductive to child
  • Exposes child to pornographic and sexually stimulating pictures
  • Encourages the child in promiscuous and/or prostitute acts
  • Freely talks or boasts about sexual themes with child



Abusers can be family, friends, neighbors, teachers, clergy or coaches.  As described by the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse:

Child abuse happens in all socio-economic, racial, ethnic and religious groups although it is now known that it does not occur equally over all groups (Fryer, 1990).



Children who have been physically, sexually and/or emotionally abused not only suffer a wide range of effects from their victimization, but are at greater risk to be abused again.

Abuse commonly produces feelings of:

  • guilt
  • violation
  • loss of control
  • lowered self-esteem.

Even those who seem to be handling their abuse are concerned that:

  • it might happen again
  • they did something wrong
  • future relationships might be abusive



Common problems for abused children include:

  • emotional problems
  • behavioral problems
  • poor performance in school
  • further abuse

While these effects are not always obvious, they are important.

Long-term studies of low achievers, runaways, drug abusers, prostitutes and incarcerated individuals paint a disturbing picture. Abuse is a consistent and pervasive element in their backgrounds. Low self-esteem and poor self-concept are ever-present.

Knowing this, there can be little doubt that children who are abused, as well as adults who were abused as children, need assistance to resolve the questions that the abuse experience has raised, even if that assistance does not come until years after the abuse.


Prevention works and you can take specific steps to protect your children and teach them to protect themselves.  Check back often for concrete steps you can take to help protect your children.