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Child Sexual Abuse: Definition & Statistics

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  • 0:04 A Misunderstood Issue
  • 1:40 How Prevalent Is the Abuse?
  • 2:35 Child Sexual Abuse Predators
  • 3:18 Child Sexual Abuse Effects
  • 3:55 Child Sexual Abuse Prevention
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson discusses how child sexual abuse is defined and relates relevant statistics. A broad definition that covers all aspects of child sexual abuse is given along with statistics related to prevalence and outcomes.

A Misunderstood Issue

Children are the most vulnerable members of the human community and, as such, are also the segment most often taken advantage of. Due to this vulnerability, parents and other adults will largely make sure that children are protected and that they are allowed to have a safe and comfortable childhood. Unfortunately, there is an element of society who would exploit this young population in order to gain profit or perverse pleasure from their innocence.

Child sexual abuse is a problem of immense proportions that has only recently begun receiving the exposure it deserves. The definition of this act covers much more than people realize and needs to be understood in its entirety. Child sexual abuse includes:

  • An act of a sexual nature between an adult and a minor.
  • Sexual acts between two minors in which one exerts power to force the act.
  • Using persuasion or coercion, such as rewards or threats, to engage a minor in any sexual act.
  • Actions that do not involve actual sexual contact but are still sexual in nature, such as viewing pornography, taking pornographic pictures, sexual communications of any type, or forcing the child to exhibit himself or herself in a sexual way.

All of these things, either alone or in conjunction with one another, constitute sexual abuse. Basically, child sexual abuse is any type of physical, emotional, or psychological exposure to acts or displays of a sexual nature. Every law enforcement jurisdiction has different specific legal definitions, but nowhere is any form of child sexual abuse legal.

How Prevalent Is the Abuse?

It's well known that adult rape, assault, and abuse are significantly underreported, but when it comes to children, the problem is even worse. According to recent data on child sexual abuse from the Darkness to Light website and victimsofcrime.org:

  • More than 10% of children will face some type of sexual abuse before they turn eighteen.
  • Girls are much more likely to experience child sexual abuse. Approximately 1 in 6 girls and 1 in 22 boys are sexually abused prior to their eighteenth birthday.
  • It's estimated that fewer than 40% of these cases are ever reported.

One other statistic that will likely surprise many people is that children and youth are more than twice as likely to experience sexual abuse than adults. The problem is that, although sexual abuse cases have been decreasing over the past two decades, it's not clear whether this is a reporting bias or an actual decrease.

Child Sexual Abuse Predators

Parents and other caregivers may believe that they could spot a child sexual predator if they saw one, but that is very likely a false belief. Child sexual predator statistics relate that:

  • In 75% to 90% of cases, the child knows the person who abused them.
  • Approximately 30% of the time, the abuse occurs with a family member.
  • In almost 40% of cases, the abuser is an older minor.
  • Individuals defined as pedophiles account for fewer than half of all cases of childhood sexual abuse. A pedophile is defined as an adult who is sexually attracted to children or minors. In many cases of abuse, the abuser is a one-time abuser who will not carry the label of pedophile.

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