What Is Childhood Sexual Abuse?

Definition of Childhood Sexual Abuse:

Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse that includes sexual activity with a minor. A child cannot consent to any form of sexual activity, period. When a perpetrator engages with a child this way, they are abusive that person and it has lasting effects on the victim.

Child on Child Sexual Abuse (COCSA) is a form of sexual abuse where both people are minors. There can be more nuanced in these cases, fifteen-year-olds while still minors can consent to sexual activity with each other, but not to adults. Some people define COCSA as before puberty or before a certain age (often between 12 and 14), some jurisdictions laws also place a necessary age gap between victim and perpetrator. However, any and all people no matter the ages of perpetrators and victim can be sexually abusive. We also generally just use the term to refer to sexual violence between two people under the age of 18 as COCSA for our purposes.

Examples of Acts That Constitute Child Sexual Abuse:

There are 2 basic types of child sexual abuse. These are called contact abuse and non-contact abuse.

Contact Abuse:

  • Groping, grinding or any other sexual touching whether the child’s wearing clothes or not.
  • Any adult touching a child’s genitals without necessary hygiene or medical purpose. (things like infections, helping a young or disabled child bathe, tending injury in this body part etc).
  • Forcing someone to touch genitals and/or perform other sexual actions
  • Rape of a child. This is sexual intercourse/penetration by putting an object or body part inside a child’s mouth, vagina or anus
  • Forcing a child to strip, masturbate themselves or the abuser, dance sexually or otherwise perform sexual acts.
  • Any other sexual/kink-related behaviour involving a minor. 

Non-Contact Abuse:

  • Being a party to forcing a child to do any of the acts mentioned above for another person, often for money. (sex trafficking)
  • Online/digital abuse. Text messages, social network messages or other digital interactions including sexual content. Examples: sexual role play, sending pornographic images, or discussing sexually explicit situations.
  • Exposing a minor to porn or other kinds of explicit sexual materials
  • Making, possessing or distributing child Sexual Exploitation Material/Child Sexual Abuse Materials (CSEM/CSAM)
  • Exposing a child to sexual activity
  • Sexual Harassment. Examples: yelling sexual things at a child, making sexual comments about a child or another child giving unwanted flirting, flashing
  • Voyeurism, “peeping” or watching minors be naked 

Child abuse is defined as “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm” by The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act

Rape is defined as “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” by US Department of Justice

Molestation is defined as “The crime of sexual acts with children up to the age of 18, including touching of private parts, exposure of genitalia, taking of pornographic pictures, rape, inducement of sexual acts with the molester or with other children and variations of these acts by pedophiles. Molestation also applies to incest by a relative with a minor family member and any unwanted sexual acts with adults short of rape.” by The People’s Law Dictionary. This is a composite definition the specifics vary by jurisdiction

Child sexual abuse is defined as “Child sex abuse is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. The offence of child sex abuse takes various forms like asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual activities, indecent exposure of the genitals to a child, displaying pornography to a child, actual sexual contact against a child, physical contact with the child’s genitals, viewing of the child’s genitalia without physical contact, or using a child to produce child pornography.” by US Legal. This is a composite definition the specifics vary by jurisdiction

Note on COCSA: an “older adolescent” in the CSA definition again is a composite of legal definitions and that varies. Rape can also happen between peers and those with a few years of an age difference. And abuse generally can occur between pairs as well. 

What are the signs of sexual abuse

Signs in Children:

  • Anger and aggressiveness
  • Any extreme changes in behaviours or moods
  • An unhealthy attachment to a single person
  • Anxiety and hypervigilance
  • Avoiding changing in front of people, dressing out for gym class, swimming or other activities where more than normal skin is exposed
  • Being overly compliant with requests, directions and physical contact. Or a “fawn” response
  • Bleeding in the genitals or rectum. Other signs of damage, infections, or other injuries in genitalia
  • Compulsive masturbation
  • Depression symptoms. Lethargy, sadness, hopelessness, or numbed-out mood.
  • Developmental regression (Ex: bed wetting or language regression)
  • Displaying inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • Disrupted/disordered eating patterns
  • Fear of specific places, people or events (Ie a holiday)
  • Fear of any physical contact, especially with specific body parts
  • Flashbacks and Panic attacks
  • Hyperactivity (often mistaken for ADHD)
  • Inappropriate interest in sexual material
  • Inattentiveness, and trouble in school often seen as a learning disability
  • Maladaptive daydreaming, spacing out, “spells” or dissociative behaviours
  • Medical issues with no known cause (headaches & nausea common)
  • Pain when walking, sitting and/or using the bathroom
  • Resistance to following directions and leaders. Sometimes diagnosed as ODD or similar disorders, though generally, this stems from mistrust
  • Searching compulsively for approval
  • Self-injurious behaviour like headbanging. Young kids may not look like typical self-harm
  • Severe nightmares
  • Social withdrawal/isolation. Dropping out of clubs or sports they once enjoyed
  • Wearing clothes that are not seasonally appropriate. Like many layers when it’s warm outside

Signs in Teens:

  • Acting out that seems random, including petty theft or getting into fights
  • Addiction to alcohol, drugs or pornography
  • Avoiding school or Home
  • (C-)PTSD symptoms
  • Drop in school performance
  • Eating disorders
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood Swings
  • Outbursts of rage
  • Risky sexual behaviour
  • Running away
  • Self-harm. (Cutting, burning or skin picking)
  • Suicidal ideation or suicide attempts
  • Telling stories about a “friend” or “somebody I know” having experienced sexual violence

Signs in Adults:

  • Addiction
  • Anger that won’t leave with periodic outbursts 
  • Anxiety disorder symptoms
  • Asthma and other respiratory ailments
  • Avoidance of intimacy or compulsive need for emotional intimacy
  • Chronic pain (Musculoskeletal skeletal, headaches & pelvic)
  • Concentration issues 
  • Exaggerated fight/flight/freeze/fawn responses
  • Extreme emotional reactions that feel as if you are responding to something you can’t place
  • Depression 
  • Difficulties with trusting others
  • Disordered Eating, Eating Disorders and Feeding Disorders
  • Dissociation, depersonalization and derealization 
  • Feeling as if you are an adult but still a child at the same time 
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms/distress
  • Habitual engagements in dangerous sexual behaviour
  • Hypervigilance 
  • Hypersexuality and/or Sex repulsion 
  • Insomnia, hypersomnia and other sleep issues 
  • Poor self-esteem and unstable self-identity 
  • C-PTSD/PTSD symptoms (explanation of PTSD here)
  • Self-harm 
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Somatization and somatic flashbacks 
  • Suicidal ideation or suicide attempts
  • Volatile interpersonal relationships

Childhood Sexual Abuse Statistics

Statistics On Victims:

Gender/Sex of Victims:

  1. 1/5 or about 20% of female will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18 in the US. This does include non-contact abuse. (1)
  2. 1/20 to 1/10 or 5 to 10% of males will be sexually abused before the age of 18 in the US. This does include non-contact abuse (1)
  3. Globally females show around a 1/5 rate (2):
    • 37.8% in Australia
    • 32.2% in Costa Rica
    • 31% in Tanzania
    • 30.7% in Israel
    • 28.1% in Sweden
    • 25.3% in the US
    • 24.2% in Switzerland
  4. 2/25 or around 8% rate is shown in males Globally(2)
  5. Global Aggregates show up to 31 % for girls and 3 to 17 % for boys (3)
  6. 47% of transgender & non-binary people were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime (22)

Rates by Race/Ethnicity in US(4):

  1. Asian: 1.6%
  2. Black: 13.9%
  3. Hispanic (non-white): 8%
  4. Indigenous Americans/Alaskan Natives: 14.3%
  5. Mixed Race: 11.3%
  6. Pacific Islander: 8.7%
  7. White: 8.1%

Specific Forms of Abuse:

  • 1 in 5 children are solicited sexually while on the Internet before the age of 18 (4)
  • 2 million children are subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade (24)
  • Gender and age profile of victims detected globally: 59% Women – 14% Men – 17% Girls and 10% were Boys (24)
  • The average age for a minor to enter the sex trade is 12 – 14 (6)
  • Up to 300,000 Americans under 18 are lured into the commercial sex trade every year (24)

Misc. Data:

  • Children living without either parent (foster children) are 10 times more likely to be sexually abused than children that live with both biological parents. (18)
  • Children who live with a single parent that has a live-in partner are at the highest risk: they are 20 times more likely to be victims of child sexual abuse than children living with both biological parents.(18)
  • Children with disabilities are 2.9 times more likely than children without disabilities to be sexually abused. (10)
  • Rates of sexual assault among Aboriginal children in 2012 were between 2 and 4 times higher than those for non-Aboriginal children in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory (23)

Statistics On Perpetrators:

Relation To Victim:

  1. 4% were unmarried partners of a parent (4)
  2. 5% were “other” [from siblings to strangers] (4)
  3. 6% were other relatives (4)
  4. 80% of perpetrators were a parent (4)
  5. About 90% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser. (13)

Demographics of Abusers:

  1. 47,000 men and 5,000 women were the alleged perpetrators (4)
  2. Homosexual [gay/lesbian] individuals are no more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual individuals. (14)
  3. In 88% of the sexual abuse claims that CPS substantiates or finds supporting evidence of, the perpetrator is male. In 9% of cases, they are female, and 3% are unknown(4)
  4. Juveniles make up 20% of those arrested for sex offences (8)

Statistics on Reporting

  1. 60% of children who are sexually abused do not disclose (7)
  2. Child protective service agencies investigate only 20% of the incidents/children identified and reported by school personnel. & School personnel identify 52% of all identified child abuse cases (18)
  3. The intentional false allegation rate is 4% of reports of child maltreatment. The rate for false reporting of child sexual abuse cases is 6% (neglect = 4%, physical abuse = 4%, and emotional abuse = 2%). Non-custodial parents (usually fathers) allegations were more likely to be intentionally false (15%) than custodial parents’ (2%) (usually mothers). Only 2% of false reports were made by children; none of the children’s false reports involved sexual abuse. (28)
  4. Researchers estimate that 38% of child victims disclose the fact that they have been sexually abused (19)

Long-Term Effects of Child Abuse:

Health Effects:

  1. 45% of pregnant teens report a history of child sexual abuse. (16)
  2. Adults with a history of child sexual abuse are 30% more likely than their non-abused peers to have a serious medical condition such as diabetes, cancer, heart problems, stroke or hypertension. (17)
  3. Adults with a history of child sexual abuse are more than twice as likely to report a suicide attempt. (25)
  4. Adult women who were sexually abused as a child are more than twice as likely to suffer from depression as women who were not sexually abused. (21)
  5. Of adults who receive mental health services, it’s thought that as many as 50% of women and 25% of men have experienced childhood sexual abuse (12)
  6. Victims are 3 times more likely to experience a major depressive episode as adults (5)
  7. Victims are 4 times more likely to develop symptoms of drug abuse (5)
  8. Victims are 4 times more likely to experience PTSD as adults (5)
  9. Women who were sexually abused as children were four times more likely than their nonabused peers to be diagnosed with an eating disorder (15)

Social Outcomes:

  • Children and teens who have been sexually abused are no more likely to become sexually abusive adults than children who have not experienced abuse (11)
  • More than one-third (35.2%) of the women who reported a completed rape before the age of 18 also experienced a completed rape as an adult, Thus, the percentage of women who were raped as children or adolescents and also raped as adults was more than two times higher than the percentage among women without an early rape history. (9)
  • Nearly 50% of women in prison state that they were abused as children. (20)
  • Sexually abused children tended to perform lower on psychometric tests measuring cognitive ability, academic achievement, and memory assessments when compared to same-age non-sexually abused peers.


1)Child Sexual Abuse Statistics.” The National Center for Victims of Crime, National Center for Victims of Crime, 2020, victimsofcrime.org/child-sexual-abuse-statistics

2)Wihbey J. Global prevalence of child sexual abuse. Journalist Resource. [Last on Aug and Updated on 2011 Nov 15]. Available from: Journalistsresource.org/studies/./global-prevalence-child-sexual-abuse

3)Barth J, Bermetz L, Heim E, Trelle S, Tonia T. The current prevalence of child sexual abuse worldwide: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Public Health. 2013 Jun;58(3):469-83. doi: 10.1007/s00038-012-0426-1. Epub 2012 Nov 21. Review. PubMed PMID: 23178922.

4)United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. Child Maltreatment Survey, 2016 (2018).

5)H.M Zinzow, H.S. Resnick, J.L. McCauley, A.B. Amstadter, K.J. Ruggiero, & D.G. Kilpatrick, Prevalence and risk of psychiatric disorders as a function of variant rape histories: results from a national survey of women. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 47(6), 893-902 (2012).

6)Smith, L.A., Vardaman, S. H. & Snow, M. A. (2009). The national report on domestic minor sex trafficking: America’s prostituted children. Retrieved from Shared Hope website: http://sharedhope.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/SHI_National_Report_on_DMST_2009.pdf

7)Broman-Fulks, J. J., Ruggiero, K. J., Hanson, R. F., Smith, D. W., Resnick, H. S., Kilpatrick, D. G., & Saunders, B. S. (2007). Sexual assault disclosure in relation to adolescent mental health: Results from the National Survey of Adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 36(2), 260 – 266. doi:10.1080/1537441070127970

8)Hanson, R., Harris, A.J.R., Helmus, L., & Thornton, D. (2014). High-risk sex offenders may not be high risk forever. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29(15), 2792-2813. doi:10.1177/0886260514526062

9)Lalor, K., & McElvaney, R. (2010). Child sexual abuse, links to later sexual exploitation/high-risk sexual behavior, and prevention/treatment programs. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 11,159-177. doi:10.1177/1524838010378299

10)Smith, N., & Harrell, S. (2013). Sexual abuse of children with disabilities: A national snapshot. Retrieved from Vera Institute website:http://www.vera.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/sexual-abuse-of-children-with-disabilities-national-snapshot.pd

11)Widom, C S, and C Massey. “A Prospective Examination of Whether Childhood Sexual Abuse Predicts Subsequent Sexual Offending.” Jama Pediatrics, 5 Jan. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25561042.

12)Cavanagh, M, Read, J. and New, B. (2004). Sexual abuse inquiry and response: A New Zealand training programme. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 33(3)

13)Finkelhor, D. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center.

14)Jenny, Carole, Roesler, Thomas A. , Poyer, Kimberly L. (1994) Are children at risk for sexual abuse by homosexuals? Pediatrics, Vol. 94 No. 1

15)Fuemmeler, B. F., Dedert, E., McClernon, F. J., & Beckham, J. C. (2009). Adverse childhood events are associated with obesity and disordered eating: Results from a U.S. population-based survey of young adults. Journal of Traumatic Stress

16)Noll, J. G., Shenk, C. E., & Putnam, K. T. (2009). Childhood sexual abuse and adolescent pregnancy: A meta-analytic update. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 34, 366-378.

17)Sachs-Ericsson, N., Blazer, D., Plant, E. A., & Arnow, B. (2005). Childhood sexual and physical abuse and 1-year prevalence of medical problems in the National Comorbidity Survey. Health Psychology, 24, 32 – 40.

18) Sedlak, A.J., Mettenburg, J., Basena, M., Petta, I., McPherson, K., Greene, A., and Li, S. (2010). Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS–4): Report to Congress, Executive Summary. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.

19)London, K., Bruck, M., Ceci, S., & Shuman, D. (2003) Disclosure of child sexual abuse: What does the research tell us about the ways that children tell? Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 11(1), 194-226.

20)Staff. “Child Abuse Statistics.” Indiana Center for the Prevention of Youth Abuse & Suicide, Indiana Center for the Prevention of Youth Abuse & Suicide , 2018, http://www.indianaprevention.org/child-abuse-statistics.

21)Rohde, P., Ichikawa, L., Simon, G. E., Ludman, E. J., Linde, J. A. Jeffery, R. W., & Operskalski, B. H. (2008). Associations of child sexual and physical abuse with obesity and depression in middle-aged women. Child Abuse & Neglect

22)James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). Executive Summary of the Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality. The full report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey is available athttp://www.USTransSurvey.org.

23) Korff, J 2019, Aboriginal sexual abuse, <“>https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/health/aboriginal-sexual-abuse&gt;, retrieved 2 April 2019

24)“What Are the Statistics on Human Trafficking of Children?” Ark of Hope for Children, Ark of Hope for Children, 31 July 2017, arkofhopeforchildren.org/child-trafficking/child-trafficking-statistics.

25)Dube, S. A., Anda, R. F., Whitfield, C. L., Brown, D. W., Felitti, D. J., Dong, M., & Giles, W. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of the victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine

26)Everson, M., and Boat, B. (1989). False allegations of sexual abuse by children and adolescents.Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

27)Wells, R., McCann, J., Adams, J., Voris, J., & Dahl, B. (1997). A validation study of the structured interview of symptoms associated with sexual abuse using three samples of sexually abused, allegedly abused, and nonabused boys. Child Abuse & Neglect

28) Faller, K. C. (2007). Coaching children about sexual abuse: A pilot study of professionals’
perceptions. Child Abuse & Neglect, 31(9), 947-959.

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