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Breeann Allison About Breeann Allison

Breeann joined Saprea as an Education Coordinator at the end of 2018. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature with a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. Currently she works as a member of the Research and Program Development Team and a co-teacher for the Saprea Healing Webinar. She is also the author of Saprea's Reclaim Hope Workbook and co-author of Why Do I Still Feel This Way: Changing Your Relationship with the Trauma of Child Sexual Abuse. She has worked in publishing for seven years, first as a curriculum developer at Gibbs Smith Education and then as an editor at FranklinCovey. On the side she enjoys writing mediocre fiction, spoiling her nieces and nephews, and defending the sacredness of the Oxford comma.

11 Factors That Increase the Risk of Child Sexual Abuse

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11 Factors That Increase the Risk of Child Sexual Abuse

It can be overwhelming to navigate through all the risks and dangers that we need to be aware of to keep our children safe. Below you’ll find a list of 11 risk increasers for child sexual abuse, along with tips on how to minimize them. This list is not intended to cause you alarm but to equip you with tools to protect and empower your child.

Risk Increaser 1:

Stressful Home Environment

Children with low self-confidence in their surroundings, particularly at home, are vulnerable to an adult who promises stability and security, even if the stability comes with other unwanted behaviors. Children with a stressful home life may also feel that they cannot confide in a parent because the parent is already burdened with so many problems and may not respond well.


It is impossible to avoid stress, especially as a parent. But being aware of how your stress affects your child and how you can manage it will go a long way. Continually assure your child that they can always confide in you, no matter how stressed you may appear. If your child does confide in you, follow through on those assurances you made. If you are in a situation or relationship that is unsafe for you and your child, get help immediately. It is important to remove a child (and yourself) from a harmful environment as soon as possible.

Risk Increaser 2:

Low Self-Esteem

Children with low self-esteem are especially vulnerable due to needs for affection, admiration, and acceptance. This is especially true for children who are targets of bullying or whose parents also display low self-esteem. Children with low self-esteem are more likely to be drawn to those who offer flattery, gifts, and special attention. Without feelings of self-worth, a child may not see the value in the boundaries, respect, and consent they are entitled to.


You can help your child build their self-esteem by identifying a hobby, activity, or skill they enjoy. Examples may include sports, performing arts, academic teams, crafts, or other extracurricular activities. Engage in these activities with your child; encourage and praise their participation. Another useful technique is assigning your child responsibilities around the house and rewarding them when those responsibilities are carried out. This will reinforce your child’s identity as a valued and contributing member of the household. If you discover your child is being bullied, address the issue immediately. Also, try to be cognizant of how you talk about yourself around your child. You are your child’s number one example. If you model having a positive self-image and positive self-talk, your child will likely follow suit.

Risk Increaser 3:

Unmonitored Access to Technology

Technology provides limitless ways to nurture your child’s education, creativity, and communication. Unfortunately, technology is also a perpetrator’s playground. The internet provides them with significantly greater access to potential targets along with added anonymity and the ability to keep things secret. The phones, tablets, or laptops in your home can be gateways for interaction between a perpetrator and your child. Not only do these devices greatly expand a perpetrator’s reach, but they remove many barriers to perpetration (such as trying to isolate a child or being able to send inappropriate material).


Keep tabs on your child’s computer access, emails, text messages, and social media platforms. Be mindful of every internet-enabled device under your roof, where they are, who is using them, and what sites are frequently viewed. You may also consider knowing your child’s passwords and restricting the use of internet-enabled devices in your child’s bedroom. You could also have a conversation with your child about navigating through images that portray sexuality, including how to recognize these images and what to do when they come across them.

Risk Increaser 4:

Poor Communication

Children who do not feel that they can be open with their parents may become distant, isolated, and insecure, and therefore more susceptible to a perpetrator’s grooming. They are less likely to confide in their parents about important topics such as the new adults in their life, inappropriate behavior they are witnessing or experiencing, or physical changes their body is going through. If or when sexual abuse begins, a child who has poor communication with their parents will likely keep it a secret. They may live in fear of getting in trouble, being judged or shamed, overburdening their parents, or being ignored.


Communication is key to preventing child sexual abuse. You can make all the difference by initiating continuous, two-way, age-appropriate discussions with your child that fit their level of maturity and understanding. Ask open-ended questions about your child’s feelings, interactions, and day-to-day experiences. Answer whatever questions your child has with age-appropriate sensitivity, no matter how uncomfortable the conversation may be. If you establish this pattern of open communication with your child early, they will make it a habit of confiding in you for support when they need it most.

Risk Increaser 5:


Loneliness is a powerful emotion. It can lead to feelings of neglect, isolation, and alienation. A crucial step in a perpetrator’s grooming is isolating the child from their loved ones, both emotionally and physically. If a child is already feeling isolated, this step will be much easier for a perpetrator to achieve. Also, if a child is left alone or unsupervised on a frequent basis, a perpetrator has more opportunities to get close to that child.


Loneliness stands little chance against a parent who is present and engaged. Be wary about leaving your child at home without adequate supervision from a trustworthy individual for extended periods of time. This may be difficult for single parents or in a household where both parents are working. If your situation does require you to be away from your child for long periods of time, ensure they are in the care of a trusted adult and communicate with your child through frequent check-ins. Express your care and involvement to reinforce that your child isn’t alone.

Risk Increaser 6:

Children Who Identify as LGBTQ+

Children who identify as LGBTQ+ or are in the process of understanding their sexual and/or gender identity can be at risk of feeling socially isolated and alienated from their peers. The fear, anxiety, and uncertainty they may experience could lead them to view themselves as an outsider with no emotional support. A perpetrator may pick up on this vulnerability and need for guidance and might seek to convince the child that they are the only one who understands and accepts them. The child may have heard the many myths surrounding sexual abuse and sexual orientation and become hesitant to disclose. When a child is afraid to open up to their parents about their sexuality, a perpetrator can use that secret against them to prevent the abuse from being disclosed.


A major fear a child can have when accepting their sexual identity or gender identity is how their parents will respond to it. In fact, this fear may overshadow all others. To dissuade this fear, establish an environment where your child can feel safe discussing these topics. Encourage them to be open with you through continual, two-way communication. If your child does open up to you about their sexual orientation or gender identity, respond in a calm and loving manner. Ask questions and actively listen to show that their thoughts and feelings matter.

Risk Increaser 7:

Misunderstanding Boundaries

One of the most significant risk increasers for child sexual abuse is insufficient education or understanding about boundaries. Children who do not have a clear understanding of boundaries are highly unlikely to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. They may not understand when someone has violated their personal boundaries or when they have violated the boundaries of someone else. With an unclear understanding of what constitutes abuse, they are less likely to disclose any sexually abusive behavior they witness, experience, or hear about. They may also engage in or demonstrate inappropriate behavior that could draw the attention of potential perpetrators.


Starting at an early age, teach your child about boundaries. This doesn’t necessarily mean discussing mature topics such as intercourse or sexual abuse with your toddler. Rather, it means teaching them their bodies are important, and certain parts of their bodies shouldn’t be touched by anyone without their permission (in the case of a doctor or a parent at bath time). It also means communicating right and wrong behaviors in how your child interacts with others. Clear and consistent boundaries will empower and protect your child with the knowledge and confidence they need to stay safe.
Your child needs boundaries in order to develop self-confidence and self-esteem. Within these boundaries, however, allowing your child certain age-appropriate freedom is vitally important.
—Joelle Casteix

Risk Increaser 8:


Children with a disability are at least three times more likely to be sexually abused. There are multiple reasons behind this statistic, including the child’s need for personal care, a desire for acceptance, a reliance on others, an inability to escape due to physical limitations, an inability to disclose abuse due to limitations in communication, and a lack of education on healthy sexuality and sexual abuse.


If your child has a disability, teach them the importance of body privacy, appropriate boundaries, and the role of consent. Establish open communication habits by having ongoing discussions about healthy sexuality. For children with communication difficulties, provide a way they can report abuse that sufficiently meets their communication needs. If a child is displaying significant changes or new challenges in behavior, consider the possibility that they are responses to abuse. If sexual abuse does occur, report it immediately.

Risk Increaser 9:

Blended Families

In a blended family, communication and relationship dynamics are complicated. There may be disagreements among parents on how to educate about boundaries, conflict resolution, privacy, and healthy sexuality. Tension among family members and stepfamily members may lead to more conflict in the home, which may lead to children having lower confidence in their environment. Blended families also increase a child’s chances of encountering a perpetrator, be it an adult (a stepparent, a live-in partner) or a peer (a stepsibling).


With more variables at play in a blended family, more effort may need to be put into consistent and open communication. To ensure consistency and clarity, all caretakers involved need to be on the same page regarding education on safe boundaries, appropriate behavior, and healthy sexuality. Be attentive and alert toward all family members and the new dynamics that develop. Ask your child open-ended questions about their experiences, feelings, and interactions with the rest of the family. If you notice any red flag behavior among family members, address it immediately.

Risk Increaser 10:

Domestic Abuse

In a home where various forms of abuse, neglect, and maltreatment are occurring, sexual abuse is likely a high risk as well. This is particularly the case in homes with physical abuse. Domestic violence fosters a home environment of instability, insecurity, poor communication, and mishandled aggression. It may also correlate with alcohol or substance abuse among one or more family members. Each of these factors increase the risk for child sexual abuse. According to researcher Danielle A. Black, the risk of intra-familial child sexual abuse is six times greater in a family where the mother is a victim of partner aggression.


If you are in a domestic abuse relationship, get help immediately. Do what you can to remove your child from the dangerous environment as soon as possible. Likewise, if you have addiction issues with drugs or alcohol, seek help immediately. Resources are available at The Hotline, Crisis Text Line, and Alcohol Abuse Hotline. The longer your child is exposed to an unstable and threatening environment, the higher the risk of abuse will be. If possible, relocate your child to a safe space with an adult you trust.

Risk Increaser 11:

Prior Sexual Abuse

Children who have been victims of prior sexual abuse are at a higher risk of being abused again. This is known as revictimization. A child survivor who lacks the support network and tools to cope with their trauma may become more vulnerable to a recurrence of sexual abuse, whether in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. Also, a child who has been subjected to sexual abuse that has not been dealt with is likely still in an at-risk environment that allows the abuse to continue.


If you discover that a child—whether your own or someone else’s—is being sexually abused, report the abuse immediately. Do everything in your power to prevent the abuse from continuing. Provide emotional support, patience, and empathy to the survivor to help strengthen their resilience and self-esteem, as well as providing them with access to therapy. A crucial element of this support is protecting the survivor against feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame. Your response may be the most important factor in your child’s healing journey, including the prevention of revictimization. In fact, research suggests that a family’s support may be more influential to a survivor’s recovery than the severity of the abuse that took place.
Parenting is never easy, but by utilizing this information, you can be empowered to improve your child’s safety and wellbeing. Ultimately, follow your instincts. No one knows your child and their situation better than you do. The most important thing is to be there for your child, let them know how much you love them, and to keep being the amazing parent you are.

About the author


Breeann Allison

Research and Program Development Strategist
Breeann joined Saprea as an Education Coordinator at the end of 2018. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature with a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. Currently she works as a member of the Research and Program Development Team and a co-teacher for the Saprea Healing Webinar. She is also the author of Saprea's Reclaim Hope Workbook and co-author of Why Do I Still Feel This Way: Changing Your Relationship with the Trauma of Child Sexual Abuse. She has worked in publishing for seven years, first as a curriculum developer at Gibbs Smith Education and then as an editor at FranklinCovey. On the side she enjoys writing mediocre fiction, spoiling her nieces and nephews, and defending the sacredness of the Oxford comma.

What is Sextortion?

Saprea > Blog > All Blogs > What is Sextortion?

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What is Sextortion?

“Send me another pic—sexier this time. Or I’ll send the one I already have to everyone you know.” 
“For $500 dollars, you can make this all go away.” 
 “You don’t want this passed around the school, do you?” 
“Maybe you should’ve been more careful with the pics you sent before dumping me.” 
“If you tell the police, they’ll arrest you for sending me child porn.” 


Sextortion is a form of child sexual abuse involving the threat to release sexually explicit material of the victim unless certain demands are met. Most commonly the perpetrator threatens to share sexual images of the victim (real or faked) with the purpose of obtaining additional sexually explicit content, sexual contact with the victim, money, or other demands. While intimate images are the most well-known type of blackmail, sextortionists can use other leverage against the victim, like the threat to share a screenshot of an intimate conversation, a video from the victim’s webcam, or private information about the victim’s sexuality. This last threat may factor into why LGBTQ+ youth are nearly three times as likely to be sextorted as their heterosexual peers.1

Sextortion is one of many forms of tech-facilitated sexual abuse that involves the nonconsensual obtaining and/or sharing of sexual images. Such distribution is committed with the intent to harm, humiliate, exploit, or gain profit. What separates sextortion from more public forms of tech-facilitated abuse, like image-based sexual abuse, sexual harassment, or revenge porn, is that sextortion centers around the threat of releasing images to gain control over the victim. This sense of power, along with the feelings of helplessness instilled in the victim, are the main drivers behind sextortion’s harms.


Given that sextortion is still a relatively new phenomenon, it remains unclear how many people are impacted by this crime.2 Recent studies show that the percentage of US teens who experience sextortion is around 3–5%.3,4 According to the FBI and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the number of reports involving sextortion has increased dramatically, more than doubling between 2019 and 2021.5,6 And in the year 2022, the Homeland Security Investigations received over 3,000 sextortion tips, though the amount of individual cases depicted by this number is unknown.7

What is clear is that sextortion is a growing trend that places youth at risk and falls into two main categories.2,8

Blackmailed by a Stranger Met Online

The first category of sextortion involves a victim being targeted by someone they met online.8 In these instances, the perpetrator will often befriend the youth on a social media app, live streaming or gaming platform, or other medium with a chat feature. During this initial contact, the perpetrator will likely use a false identity, pretending to be someone younger, attractive, and typically of the opposite sex to garner the youth’s interest and trust. In fact, this type of catfishing is used in 91% of sextortion cases involving perpetrators met online.9

While communicating with the youth, the perpetrator will use grooming methods such as flattery, compliments, flirtation, shared secrets, and signs of genuine interest in the youth’s life. They may even offer the youth gifts or bribes as they build up a rapport.7

The perpetrator will then ask the youth to send them a suggestive photo of themselves. This request may come after an expressed attraction to the youth, excessive flattery about the youth’s looks, or even a sexted image sent by the perpetrator. After the youth is pressured into sending a sexual photo, the perpetrator uses that photo as blackmail, threatening to share it online or with the youth’s contacts unless they meet a specific demand. Some perpetrators may demand more pictures or other forms of sexually explicit content. They may even demand sexual contact with the victim or coerce them into forms of illegal activity. Others may demand payment in what is termed as financial sextortion, a rising trend that is increasingly targeting young males.10

Blackmailed by Someone You Know

While instances involving strangers encountered online have been the focus of the media’s rising interest in sextortion, there is a second type of sextortion that youth may experience—being sextorted by someone they already know.8 In fact, research shows that in the majority of cases a minor is sextorted by someone who is already a part of their life, most often a current or former romantic partner.3,8 This type of sextortion seems to coincide with teen dating victimization, specifically with threatening to share photos of a partner in order to control them, force them to return to a relationship, or force them to provide more photos post-breakup.

Although victims often knowingly provide sexual images that are later used against them, the degree of consent involved in such a decision may be up for debate, even within romantic pairings. One study showed that while most victims initially sent the images to the person they knew (75%), many felt pressured to do so (67%).8 This may be indicative of the complicated and controversial nature of sexting. Because while sexting remains common among adolescents as a form of social bonding, romantic expression, and sexual exploration, girls in particular have reported feeling pressured, manipulated, or coerced into sending images of themselves, as well experiencing more negative consequences as a result.8 One of those consequences may be sextortion. If the sensitive content is eventually shared by the blackmailer, then the youth also becomes the victim of image-based sexual abuse (the non-consensual sharing of images). Depending on the situation, the sextortion may also overlap with revenge porn, online sexual harassment, the distribution of sexually explicit materials involving children, and other forms of tech-facilitated sexual abuse.

What Are the Harms?

In about half of sextortion cases involving minors, the blackmailer follows through with the threat of releasing the sensitive content—posting it online and/or sharing it with the victims’ contacts.8 Whether the threat is carried out or not, sextortion can impact the victim in a number of other harmful ways. Many victims experience feelings of helplessness, shame, fear, and a loss of control.11 Some have expressed feeling trapped, like there was no way out. Such feelings of dread, worry, and hopelessness have led to other harmful impacts, including high depression levels, panic attacks, difficulty eating, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and—in a few high-profile cases—suicide.11,12 These risks can intensify in cases where the sextortionist continues to harass or stalk the victim (sometimes for a period of up to six months), create a fake online profile about them, and/or encourage the victim to harm themselves.3,8

In instances where the child is sextorted by someone they met online, they are not only threatened with blackmail, but may also lose a relationship they had perceived as safe, supportive, or even loving.10

As with other forms of child sexual abuse, the shame that a victim can experience because of sextortion reduces the likelihood that they will reach out for help. In fact, only half of minors who are sextorted tell someone about their victimization. Most feel too embarrassed (80%) or dread that they’ll get in trouble (68%).8 Among victims who do open up to a parent, girls are significantly more likely to disclose (41.7%) than boys (28.6%).3

How to Stop Sextortion

Sextortion is a crime that attempts to isolate victims through feelings of shame, helplessness, and terror. Victims may not only fear getting in trouble by their parents and law enforcement, but also having their devices taken away, an outcome that can feel like punishment and lead to further isolation ( The most important thing a parent can do to reduce the risk of their child being sextorted is to foster open and continual communication.

Researchers recommend less emphasis be placed on stranger danger—considering that people the child already knows can still pose a threat, while connections formed online can lead to healthy, meaningful relationships. Rather, parents are encouraged teach and model what healthy relationships look like—whether that relationship is first developed in person or online, and whether it is an acquaintance, friendship, or romance.4,13 As youth become more knowledgeable of what constitutes a healthy relationship—including authenticity, openness, communication, and a respect for boundaries—they’ll be more able to identify situations and interactions that may place them at risk. They’ll also be more equipped to maintain healthy boundaries, as well as deflect demands and resist pressures that seek to violate those boundaries. They’ll also be more able navigate through abusive scenarios like sextortion by ceasing contact, seeking help, and recognizing that they are not at fault. Youth will seek out such support if they have already been assured that their parent is a safe and trusted person they can turn to, no matter the issue they’re facing. If the parent has a history of responding rather than reacting, and has maintained open lines of communication about all manner of sensitive or difficult topics, the child or teen will be less likely to isolate if they are targeted.

Along with open communication and modeling healthy relationships, parents can also teach and model healthy boundaries with technology. They can educate their kids about digital citizenship and the risks that come with living in the digital era, including the risk of sextortion. Parents can advise their kids to be selective about what they share with others—online and offline—and to be aware that people can pretend to be anyone online. They can also set boundaries around screen time and internet use, monitor or spot check devices, be in the know about what apps and social media platforms their kids are using, and be aware of who their kids are communicating with.

Warning Signs

Parents can also be on the lookout for warning signs of sextortion and other forms of child sexual abuse, tech-facilitated or otherwise. These signs might include a withdrawal from general interests and activities, isolating from others, increased anxiety and/or depression levels, lashing out, stealing money, refusing to discuss what they’re doing online and/or who they’re communicating with, and being constantly agitated or on edge.

What Do I Do if Something Has Already Happened? 

If your child has already been victimized by sextortion, it is important to:

  • Block all further communications with the sextortionist.
  • Report the account to the website or platform where the sextortionist made contact.
  • Avoid sending money if the sextortionist is demanding payment.
  • Keep all messages, photos, and other related communications as evidence for prosecution.
  • Report the incident to the authorities. You may also consider using the CyberTipline run by the National Center for Missing and Exploiting Children (NCMEC).
  • Refrain from taking away the child’s device, as this may instill additional feelings of shame and isolation.
  • Offer support, empathy, and safety in the aftermath, assuring the child they are not to blame.
  • Connect the child with professional resources to help them manage any distressing impacts.


You can learn more about at sextortion by visiting,, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and For more information about how to protect the children in your life from sexual abuse, we invite you to explore Saprea’s sexual abuse prevention resources.

About the author


Breeann Allison

Research and Program Development Strategist
Breeann joined Saprea as an Education Coordinator at the end of 2018. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature with a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. Currently she works as a member of the Research and Program Development Team and a co-teacher for the Saprea Healing Webinar. She is also the author of Saprea's Reclaim Hope Workbook and co-author of Why Do I Still Feel This Way: Changing Your Relationship with the Trauma of Child Sexual Abuse. She has worked in publishing for seven years, first as a curriculum developer at Gibbs Smith Education and then as an editor at FranklinCovey. On the side she enjoys writing mediocre fiction, spoiling her nieces and nephews, and defending the sacredness of the Oxford comma.

Online Sexual Harassment

Saprea > Blog > All Blogs > Online Sexual Harassment

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Online Sexual Harassment

Ava can’t believe that out of all the other girls at school, Drew wants to date her, a pimply faced seventh grader whose had a crush on him since their first game of freeze tag. Ava has never had a boyfriend before, so when Drew sends her a nude photo of himself and asks for one in return, she laughs it off and sends a suggestive emoji instead. But when Drew starts teasing that she’s “too uptight” and not as fun as other girls he’s dated, Ava finally gives in and sends the photo. It doesn’t feel right, but she doesn’t want Drew to dump her for being too boring. And anyways, she’s still wearing her bra and underwear in the picture, so it’s not even that big of a deal. And okay, she may be licking a popsicle in the photo, but it’s just a joke—like the emoji.

A week later, Ava finds out that Drew shared her photo with a couple of friends on his soccer team. A couple days after that, a girlfriend of one of the players creates a fake account of Ava on social media, using the nearly nude photo as the profile picture. Lots of classmates leave comments on the profile about her body, her need for attention, and her sleazy behavior. A few even share photos of classmates they rank as more attractive than Ava and encourage others to upvote or downvote each photo.

Horrified, Ava has no idea what to do. She doesn’t want to tell any of the adults in her life, especially her parents. They probably wouldn’t ever look at her the same way again. They may even take away her phone, which is Ava’s one lifeline to the few friends she still has. And besides, isn’t it all her fault anyway for sending Drew the photo? That’s probably what the police would say.

Ava starts to wonder if all this bullying and humiliation is exactly what she deserves. Ashamed and overwhelmed, she decides not to tell anyone. Instead, she pretends to be sick to avoid seeing her classmates at school. And when Drew asks her to send him another photo—this time fully nude—she does. Because honestly, after everything, it’s a miracle he still wants anything to do with her.

Technology and Youth Today

Technology and digital media have become an integral part of day-to-day life across the globe. Access to smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other internet devices is widespread, and plays a central role in education, entertainment, employment, and social connection. This is especially the case for children and teens. In fact, it is estimated that one in three children globally is already an internet user.1 In the US, 95% of teens report owning a smartphone or have access to one. Additionally, 45% of teens report they are online on a near-constant basis.2

This widespread access has equipped youth with exciting opportunities for academic achievement, self-discovery, self-expression, and social connection. Teens have credited technology, particularly social media, with enhancing their ability to:3

  • Strengthen friendships.
  • Interact with diverse voices and viewpoints.
  • Raise awareness around causes they care about.
  • Receive support through difficult times.
  • Feel more connected to the people in their lives.

Many also feel that digital technology provides a safe space to meet and interact with others who have similar interests, pursuits, and backgrounds.3 This is especially the case for youth who identify as LGBTQ+ and are seeking to form social and romantic connections.4 Digital media and technology can also supply youth with information and education regarding sexual health and development that may have otherwise been unavailable, particularly among low-income populations.5

Along with these countless benefits, higher access to internet devices also presents youth with new risks. One of these risks is online sexual harassment, like the type that Ava experienced.


Definition of Online Sexual Harassment

Online sexual harassment is the weaponizing of sexual content—such as images, videos, or posts—to harass, exploit, humiliate, distress, coerce, or threaten. It can include a variety of unwanted sexual behaviors and can occur on any digital platform, though it is particularly prominent among apps and platforms that contain unmonitored livestreams, shared content, and direct messaging (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube).6

Victims of online sexual harassment often experience feelings of isolation, fear, shame, hurt, and exclusion. Unfortunately, such feelings can be difficult to escape, even in the privacy of a bedroom or other personal spaces, due to the intrusive and ever-present nature of online communication.

Though it encompasses a wide range of behaviors, online sexual harassment can be broken down into four main categories:6

  • Non-Consensual Sharing of Intimate Images and Videos
  • Exploitation, Coercion, and Threats
  • Sexualized Bullying
  • Unwanted Sexualization

Non-Consensual Sharing of Images and Videos

Central to this type of online harassment is the rising trend of sexting. Sexting is the creating and sharing of self-generated content, including sexual images, videos, or texts.7 It can range from explicit content, such as nude photos or videos of sexual acts, to partial nudity, erotic poses, and other forms of sexual suggestions.

For many youth, sexting is viewed as a means to flirt, to excite, and to experiment and explore sexual relationships and identities. And yet, even within the context of a “consensual” interaction between two teens, the legitimacy of that consent remains up for debate. Girls, in particular, are more likely to feel coerced or pressured into sexting with a peer as a result of gendered norms and expectations. Sexting-related pressures are also common among LGBTQ+ youth, who are often more reliant on online interactions to explore their sexuality.8

However, even if a sexted image is shared during a consensual (or what is perceived as consensual) interaction between two people, that image could be forwarded to others without the sender’s consent. This is what is known as the non-consensual sharing of images, or image-based sexual abuse.

But why would a teen engage in such abuse? One reason may be to gain approval or status among their peers.4 They may be motivated by a desire to gossip, feel more included, and be more involved in the online conversation.9 Teenage boys, in particular, have reported that the reason they participated in image-based sexual abuse was to impress their friends, prove their masculinity, and demonstrate sexual prowess.10

Regardless of age or gender, it’s not uncommon for youth to have nonchalant attitudes toward image-based sexual abuse. For instance, in one study, nearly a quarter of teenagers stated that they’d forwarded a sexted image as a joke. And in a sample of teenagers who had received a forwarded image, 72% said they did nothing.8

Another common motive behind image-based sexual abuse is “revenge porn,” or to get back at an ex after a relationship has ended.11 However, the non-consensual sharing of images doesn’t only occur among romantic partners and exes. It can be perpetrated by a classmate, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger, and can be driven by a desire to harm, manipulate, harass, or bully.

Exploitation, Coercion, and Threats

These motives are also common in the second category of online sexual harassment, which involves exploitation, coercion, and threats. In this category, behaviors like image-based sexual abuse can also be used as a form of blackmail, in which the victim is forced into doing something to prevent their documented sexual activity (real or faked) from being exposed. This tactic of exploitation is an example of sexual extortion (or sextortion).11 In such cases, the victim might be compelled to participate in sexual behaviors, such as creating and sharing additional sexual content.

For example, a teen might feel coerced or threatened to share a nude photo if the person harassing them already has private information or content that the victim doesn’t want released. This content could range from details about the victim’s sexuality or past sexual experiences to an already existing nude image or screenshot of a sexual conversation. In Ava’s scenario, she sends Drew another photo because she’s worried he’ll leak more of their private conversations if she doesn’t comply.

In other cases, the victim might be coerced into making payments or doing specific favors to appease the blackmailer. They may also face threats in addition to the releasing of private content, such as the threat of being hacked, doxed (in which contact information is made public), or sexually assaulted (in-person or online).

Sexualized Bullying

While extortion is used to coerce someone to do something specific while under duress, sexualized bullying can encompass a much wider range of behaviors and motivations. This type of harassment involves the weaponizing of sexual content to humiliate, degrade, dehumanize, and/or discriminate against someone. It can range from simply “liking” or commenting on a post, to sharing content that encourages harassment and bullying.

Oftentimes, sexualized bullying involves aggression and hostility, and can be motivated by the desire to harm, to seek revenge, to retaliate against previous harassment, or to exclude others from the larger group.7 This is especially the case with instances involving “hate speech,” or using discriminatory sexual language towards members of racial or sexual minority groups. It can also involve cyberstalking, spreading rumors online about someone’s sexual behavior, creating a fake profile to impersonate someone, or “outing” someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent.6

While personal vendettas often drive this type of behavior, sexualized bullying can also be the result of a joke gone too far, or of crossing a boundary in order to impress, amuse, or gain acceptance among peers. Given that “sexual banter” is central to many flirtations, interactions, and other bonding experiences among youth, it can be difficult for young people to tell the difference between playful jokes and harmful harassment.6 This is especially the case when clique dynamics come into play, and a youth feels pressured to please or entertain the larger group. In these instances, teens may also be emboldened by what is called the “online disinhibition effect,” which refers to behaviors people engage in online that they would never do in person.

Unwanted Sexualization

This lack of inhibition can also contribute to the fourth category of online sexual harassment—unwanted sexualization, which involves sending someone unwelcome sexual content online. This content might be a sexual comment posted to someone’s photo. Or it could be a sexual image, emoji, message, joke, or request. It could happen in a private space, such as an unwanted advance in a direct message, or in a public one, like within a group chat or on someone’s social media profile.

This type of sexualization can also involve sharing content about the victim with others with the intent to sexualize or objectify. Examples of this might be altering someone’s image to make them look more sexual and then posting that image in a public space. It could also involve posting an image of someone and making sexual comments about that image and/or prompting others to rate the person’s attractiveness. Girls are at an especially high risk of experiencing this type of online harassment, which often reinforces gender stereotypes, entitlements, and expectations.6

Similarly to how sexualized bullying can be the result of a joke going too far, unwanted sexualization can stem from misguided attempts to compliment, flatter, or flirt. Despite these intentions, unwanted sexualization results in the other person feeling demeaned, embarrassed, violated, or objectified, and demonstrates a lack of understanding of one’s boundaries, preferences, and personal feelings. It may also be due to such behaviors becoming normalized, leading to a lack of seriousness or understanding about how unwanted sexualization, along with other types of online sexual harassment, can impact the victim.12

Impacts of Online Sexual Harassment

Such impacts can affect many areas of a youth’s life. On the legal side, a teen who sexts a self-generated image could be charged with the distribution of “child pornography.” Others involved, like those who received or forwarded the images, could also face prosecution. In fact, in certain states, a teen who has sexted can be charged as both an offender and a victim. Along with legal repercussions, youth who have had their sexual images or sensitive information exposed are also at risk of being excluded from opportunities in employment and education.5

On a more personal level, online sexual harassment can severely impact a youth’s mental and emotional well-being. Victims often struggle with feelings of shame, helplessness, and regret, in some cases to the degree that they no longer want to attend school and face their peers, as was the case with Ava.9 Their humiliation may be amplified by the fact that in cases of non-consensually shared content, the sender of the image is often blamed, rather than the person who shared it.6 As a result, victims may experience heightened depressionanxiety, self-harm, face-to-face bullying and harassment, and other forms of victimization, both online and offline. This is especially true for girls, who generally experience more negative consequences of sexting than boys.10

Each of these impacts can resurface or be drawn out if the content is re-shared online at a later time, leading to revictimization.6

And yet, despite these impacts, youth are often too scared to report when they are being sexually harassed online. Many are too embarrassed to seek help or worry that reporting the harassment will only make them more vulnerable.6 There is also the fear that they will be blamed for the harassment they experienced, and that adults will respond by restricting or completely removing their access to internet devices. These measures will not only be viewed by the victim as a punishment (and therefore a confirmation that they are to blame), but will cut them off from their primary means of social connection during a time when they are already feeling vulnerable and excluded.13

What Can I Do About Online Sexual Harassment?

Given that the digital landscape has become such an essential part of today’s world, parents can seek to better understand the connections, experiences, and interactions their children are having online. They can also have conversations with their kids about how to safely navigate through this digital landscape and the risks and responsibilities that come with having a digital footprint. For example, kids may feel that they are the exception to the rule and that the risks of sharing intimate information and photos don’t apply to them. They may also have a false sense of invincibility, particularly with apps like Snapchat where there’s the assumption that whatever is shared with others will be erased immediately without someone taking a screenshot.

Along with discussing risks, parents can foster continual, open conversations with their kids about healthy behaviors and relationships, both online and offline. This might include topics surrounding peer pressure, boundariesprinciples of consent, gender stereotypes, healthy communicationsexual development, the permanence of online content, and what constitutes as harassment. It may be especially helpful to talk with kids about the long-term impacts that sexual harassment—online or otherwise—can have on others.

Parents might consider running through different scenarios and asking their kids how they would respond in each situation, as well as how the others involved in the scenario would feel. Research suggests that this type of roleplaying may prove more effective than listing out rules and consequences.6 Also, given how intertwined technology has become with other areas of day-to-day life, parents may also consider treating digital safety and general safety as one and the same. For example, parents might incorporate the digital aspects of relationships—such as texting and exchanging images—into any conversation they have with their teens about romance, dating, and sex education.

In cases where a child or teen has already been sexually harassed (online or offline), it is crucial for the parents to respond with understanding, compassion, and support, rather than shame or judgment. Restricting or reducing the youth’s access to internet devices will not only reinforce blame but will severely reduce the chances that the youth will come to the parent for help in future situations. Rather, parents can seek to understand what the child has been through and the specifics of the situation.6 Through this openness and empathy, parents can better respond to online sexual harassment, prevent future incidents from occurring, and empower their kids to confide in them when something does happen.

A few other ways that parents can help strengthen their child’s digital safety include:

  • Teaching the child about the fundamental characteristics of healthy relationships, such as respect, consent, authenticity, and honesty. This would include explaining to youth, especially heterosexual boys, about the importance of deleting photos of an ex out of respect and to remove any temptation or pressure to share those photos with others.
  • Explaining to the child how sexting might disrupt a healthy relationship, particularly when power dynamics, social pressures, and gender stereotypes come into play.
  • Learning about risky online behaviors and teaching the child about how such behaviors can harm everyone involved.
  • Modeling healthy habits around social media use and screen time.
  • Asking after the child’s questions, concerns, and curiosities related to online interactions and behaviors.
  • Assuring the child that their safety and well-being is what matters most—more so than their reputation.

As parents proactively address and model healthy boundaries, communication, and consent—both online and offline—children and teens will be better prepared to connect with others in a healthy way and to become safe and responsible internet users in the digital era.

For more information about digital safety and how to better prepare your child for the risks they’ll encounter online, visit, and CommonSense Education. Also, if you or someone you know is a survivor of child sexual abuse, here is where you can learn more about Saprea’s healing resources.

About the author


Breeann Allison

Research and Program Development Strategist
Breeann joined Saprea as an Education Coordinator at the end of 2018. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature with a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. Currently she works as a member of the Research and Program Development Team and a co-teacher for the Saprea Healing Webinar. She is also the author of Saprea's Reclaim Hope Workbook and co-author of Why Do I Still Feel This Way: Changing Your Relationship with the Trauma of Child Sexual Abuse. She has worked in publishing for seven years, first as a curriculum developer at Gibbs Smith Education and then as an editor at FranklinCovey. On the side she enjoys writing mediocre fiction, spoiling her nieces and nephews, and defending the sacredness of the Oxford comma.

Not a Parent?: How You Can Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

Saprea > Blog > All Blogs > Not a Parent?: How You Can Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

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Not a Parent?: How You Can Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

Cleo was on a lunch break when she heard a chilling statistic: According to a study released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in every 4 girls and 1 in every 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18 in the United States.1

These numbers were like a sucker punch to Cleo’s stomach. How can we live in a world where such horrible things happen? she wondered. She wondered if parents could be more proactive about protecting their children. She wondered if kids would be able to recognize inappropriate behavior coming from adults or other kids. She wondered if the amount of people who want to protect children outnumber those who seek to hurt them.

Little did Cleo realize, she could be one of these people—a defender of innocence. She’s not a parent. She’s not a teacher. She doesn’t have a job that involves working with children. In fact, she doesn’t really see children all that often in her day-to-day life. So how can Cleo, someone who barely interacts with children, be a protector and defender against child sexual abuse?

Cleo realized she did have connections in her life to children. She didn’t have any children of her own, but she had two nieces and three nephews. She didn’t work directly with children at her job, but three of her coworkers were parents. There were also several families in her neighborhood with small children. She was vaguely acquainted with the parents and saw their kids playing in nearby yards from time to time.

Cleo realized each of these children in her life were at some degree of risk. Each of these children, no matter how healthy and happy they appeared, were in need of defenders against child sexual abuse. This discovery gave Cleo an increased sense of responsibility and a greater awareness of her role in the community.

Every child you pass in the hall has a story that needs to be heard.
Maybe you are the one meant to hear it.

— Bethany Hill, assistant principal from Arkansas

Why Should You care?

Even if it seems that the issue of child sexual abuse won’t ever affect you personally, it affects the society you inhabit and is likely affecting someone you know.

Child sexual abuse can have long-lasting effects on survivors as they age into adulthood. These adverse impacts might not just affect the survivor but those around them, be it their children, their family members, their coworkers, their partners, or even their relationship with you. Without proper help and healing, trauma can continue into the next generation. Perpetrators continue to thrive on society’s tendency to turn a blind eye. Notions of respect, consent, and boundaries are often misunderstood or not properly addressed. Legal systems may fail those who were targeted, by refusing to listen or not taking proper action. Ultimately, child sexual abuse doesn’t just affect children you’ll never know or never meet. It affects the health and stability of our society as whole.

However, you have a chance to make a difference. Like Cleo, your sphere of influence may be larger than you think. You might not have any children in your life, but you still have the power to protect those who are most vulnerable.

So how can you help?

Maybe you’re a college student or a retiree. Maybe you’re an aunt, uncle, cousin, or sibling. Or maybe you’re a neighbor, teacher, coach, volunteer, community leader, or churchgoer. No matter your circumstance or stage of life, one thing remains the same: your ability to make a difference. Here are five ways you can help defend innocence and prevent child sexual abuse.


Be aware

The more you know, the greater influence you’ll have on raising awareness, preventing or hindering perpetration, supporting at-risk children, encouraging healing, posing improvements in the legal system, and protecting survivors from revictimization. You can take the initiative by educating yourself on topics such as warning signs, grooming patterns, and likely places a perpetrator will make a move. This is not to increase your paranoia or distrust, but to hone your intuition. By being more informed, you’ll know what to look out for, when a child might be in need, and what you can do to help. We have many educational blog posts and resources that provide a great start to self-education. To learn more about the long-term effects of childhood trauma, you can check out our sister organization, The Younique Foundation, or this informational site from the CDC.


Be vigilant

Being well-informed will help you become more aware of what’s going on around you. You can be vigilant when attending family gatherings, local celebrations, sporting events, and other public activities that involve children. This doesn’t mean you are continually looking to accuse others of suspicious behavior. But if any red flags that you’ve learned about occur in plain sight, you may be the one to take notice. If you do see something, act. Don’t look the other way. This may be easier said than done. Sometimes it’s more comfortable to stay silent, even if we witness something terrible, and assume that someone else will take the necessary action. This assumption, known as the bystander effect, leads to no one taking action, no matter how dire the need. It’s crucial to rise above this mentality; be an instigator, not a bystander. If you feel it’s necessary, take the parents aside or seek out the proper local authorities to voice your concern.


Spread the word

Be willing to openly talk about child sexual abuse as an important issue, rather than treating it as taboo. Once you feel comfortable in your knowledge on the subject, you can also teach groups in your community about topics such as healthy sexuality, consent, and abuse prevention. It can be scary to initiate a conversation about such a sensitive subject, especially with people you don’t know very well. But when others see how comfortable you are about starting a dialogue, they might follow suit and open up as well. They may have important information or experiences they need to share.


Donate or volunteer

Even a few dollars can go a long way. There are more ways to donate than clicking a button on our site. Perhaps on your birthday and other gift-giving holidays, rather than receiving gifts, you request people to send donations in your honor. If this option interests you, visit here to learn more. Or maybe you’d rather purchase merchandise, or hold a fundraiser in your community, such as a 5k or a bake sale. You could also offer something even more precious than your money: your time. Become a volunteer in your community or online. A variety of opportunities to serve are available, so you can find one tailor-made for your personality type and experience. You can participate in campaigns, spread awareness through social media, teach classes in your community, and host events. These options and more can be found here.


Be a positive example

Do you remember any adults who had a positive impact on your childhood? Adults who weren’t your parents but who you admired and felt safe around? In 2018, a team of researchers analyzed the impact of positive early life experiences in adults who had endured difficult childhoods. In this study, participants were asked a series of questions, including:2

    • Did you have at least one teacher who cared about you?
    • Did you have good neighbors?
    • Was there an adult (not a parent/caregiver) who could provide you with support or advice?

According to the findings, children with healthy attachments in their community—including positive adult influences who weren’t their parents—have a higher potential to develop resilience in the face of adversity. As an adult, you can be that positive influence for a child. If you currently do have any meaningful relationships with children, encourage open communication with them. Let them know they can confide in you as a trustworthy adult and that you will listen without judgment. This example of openness and respect can extend to families and caregivers as well. Through your actions, emphasize the importance of awareness and prevention. Ensure the spaces you attend or create are safe. Establish and respect appropriate boundaries, not just toward children, but adults as well. If you discover that a child in your life has been abused, offer support to the child and their family however you can.

No matter your circumstance or stage in life, you can be a strong ally in protecting children from child sexual abuse and empowering families to learn about ways to prevent it. Through your awareness, vigilance, and willingness to speak out about child sexual abuse, the world becomes that much safer for the children around you. You might think you’re only one person, but sometimes the greatest difference made in a child’s life is through one individual. Never underestimate the impact you have on another person.

About the author


Breeann Allison

Research and Program Development Strategist
Breeann joined Saprea as an Education Coordinator at the end of 2018. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature with a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. Currently she works as a member of the Research and Program Development Team and a co-teacher for the Saprea Healing Webinar. She is also the author of Saprea's Reclaim Hope Workbook and co-author of Why Do I Still Feel This Way: Changing Your Relationship with the Trauma of Child Sexual Abuse. She has worked in publishing for seven years, first as a curriculum developer at Gibbs Smith Education and then as an editor at FranklinCovey. On the side she enjoys writing mediocre fiction, spoiling her nieces and nephews, and defending the sacredness of the Oxford comma.

Child Sexual Abuse Stigma and How to Combat It

Saprea > Blog > All Blogs > Child Sexual Abuse Stigma and How to Combat It

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Child Sexual Abuse Stigma and How to Combat It

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

On your healing journey, you may come across people who react to your experiences in inappropriate or even hurtful ways. These reactions, whether intentional or not, might make you feel self-conscious, embarrassed, or discouraged. They might make you feel judged or criticized. A painful reaction when you disclose your abuse may lead to a setback on your healing journey, causing you to question whether you should even continue sharing your story with others.

As harmful as certain reactions may be, stigmas about child sexual abuse do NOT define you or determine your journey as a survivor.

What is stigma and where does it come from?

“Stigma” is when a person or a group of people assign a negative connotation onto another person or group of people, based on a set of beliefs, perspectives, or biases.

There are many variables that can play into a person’s attitude towards child sexual abuse. A person may have their own trauma histories they haven’t resolved, they may be ignorant about how to properly respond, or they may have been influenced by other cultural myths. Even if someone’s reaction is well-meaning, it can still be misguided and ultimately leave you feeling disheartened or even triggered.

Feeling affected by someone’s reaction to your disclosure or by other messages in the media or popular culture does not make you weak, unsteady, or powerless. It doesn’t mean you are ill-equipped or have somehow regressed on your healing journey. The fact is you are strong, capable, and resilient. That you have survived, are here reading this, and are facing down your demons is proof of your courage and strength. You are a model of resilience and a powerful fighter as you choose to face and reconcile with the trauma you have endured.

But no matter where you’re at on your healing journey, the ignorance of others can still be painful. You may encounter this type of misinformation not only in reactions from others, but in social media posts, news coverage, public conversations, media portrayals, etc. These hurtful and triggering messages stem from stigmas that have surrounded sexual abuse for years. Such stigmas have led to outdated and misguided perceptions, or cultural myths. These cultural myths (“she was asking for it,” “men’s passions are uncontrollable,” “boys can’t be sexually abused”) and their problematic ripple effects were first addressed by sociologists and feminists in the 1970s. In 1975, multiple researchers theorized that cultural myths surrounding sexual abuse served to justify, downplay, and even perpetuate inappropriate aggression and toxic behaviors.1

These myths continue to influence our culture today. For example, they may reinforce certain barriers or biases in the justice system that increase the likelihood of survivors being disbelieved or perpetrators going unpunished. This misinformation might also contribute to an ignorant or dismissive response to a sexual abuse disclosure, a misguided Facebook post, a sensationalized news story about false allegations, or harmful portrayals of family relationships on a TV show.

One of the most damaging effects of sexual abuse stigmas is survivors being too afraid to disclose their abuse and seek help, largely due to the fear of how others will react.2 But if you share your story and your resilience, you will provide hope and encouragement to the silent survivor. Through your example, others will feel safe enough and emboldened enough to break their silence and seek help, no matter the criticism they may come across.

Of course, just because such stigmas still exist doesn’t mean everyone accepts or reinforces them. Thankfully, through the efforts of survivors, supporters of survivors, therapists, researchers, legislators, and support organizations, progress continues to be made as awareness and education about sexual abuse increases.

While faulty messages and misinformed opinions can be hurtful, there are ways you can combat them as you continue on your healing journey.











If you’re genuinely curious about a certain topic or point of view regarding sexual abuse, don’t be afraid to dig deeper. Seek out more information from reputable sources, like research studies, scholarly articles, or books by specialists in the field. You might also want to talk with your therapist or support group facilitator. It might even be helpful to ask your therapist about specific stigmas in order to better recognize them and their ripple effects. Being aware of certain stigmas or myths might also help you plan on how to respond when encountering them in the future. Equip yourself with as much knowledge as you need—whether for your own peace of mind, to educate others, or both.





Harmful words and reactions can sometimes wound or even trigger us. But they don’t define us or have the power to sway us from our journey. No matter the social stigmas or ignorant opinions out there, you get to choose your own story. You get to determine where it goes and how you want it to end. Writer Rebecca Scritchfield compares life’s experiences to a road trip. “You’re driving the car. You decide the speed, control the gas pedal and brakes, and choose the roads you take on your journey.”3 The assumptions, biases, and misconceptions of others might cause you to swerve or slow down. But they can never uproot the road. The negativity of others can’t impede you from living a life of hope and positivity.


Yes, stigmas surrounding child sexual abuse still exist. And they can perpetuate misinformation, outdated stereotypes, and misguided reactions. But what they can’t do is take away your courage, resilience, and strength. As disheartening as stigmatized and misguided views can be, they can’t silence your voice. The stigma surrounding sexual abuse is crumbling and will continue to crumble, one conversation at a time. And you have the power to make that happen.

About the author


Breeann Allison

Research and Program Development Strategist
Breeann joined Saprea as an Education Coordinator at the end of 2018. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature with a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. Currently she works as a member of the Research and Program Development Team and a co-teacher for the Saprea Healing Webinar. She is also the author of Saprea's Reclaim Hope Workbook and co-author of Why Do I Still Feel This Way: Changing Your Relationship with the Trauma of Child Sexual Abuse. She has worked in publishing for seven years, first as a curriculum developer at Gibbs Smith Education and then as an editor at FranklinCovey. On the side she enjoys writing mediocre fiction, spoiling her nieces and nephews, and defending the sacredness of the Oxford comma.