Understand the Issue of Child
Parents may find it difficult to even consider the possibility that their child could be affected by sexual abuse, but it's important to remember: sexual abuse is an issue that cannot be ignored.
The trauma of child sexual abuse can have devastating effects when it occurs, as well as long-term impacts that linger well into adulthood. Sexual abuse is far more common than many people think and harms children from all walks of life.
Definition of Child Sexual Abuse
To understand the issue of sexual abuse, it’s critical to first understand what it is. Saprea defines sexual abuse as any situation where another person (adult or peer) forces or coerces a child or adolescent into sexual activity, physical or non-physical. Physical sexual activities may include fondling, masturbation, oral-genital contact, digital penetration, vaginal intercourse, or anal intercourse. Non-physical sexual activities may include unhealthy sexual exposure, voyeurism, and child pornography. Understanding the spectrum of sexual abuse can empower you—and the people that support you and your child—to reduce the risk of sexual abuse.
Saprea is the nonprofit known for using proven, practical methods for confronting and overcoming child sexual abuse. In 2015, the Education and Program team at Saprea began work on collecting research summaries around the issue of child sexual abuse to create research-informed services, resources, and messaging. Learn more about the research that was conducted.
Key Facts About Child Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is pervasive.
In the U.S. alone, this equates to more than 1 million children who will be sexually abused this year.
Sexual abuse commonly occurs as the result of the actions of another child.
All children are at risk of sexual abuse, with some populations experiencing increased risk.
“Online” and “Offline” safety go hand-in-hand.
A child is far less likely to be sexually abused by a stranger.
A family member perpetrates the abuse in 20% of reported cases, with girls at highest risk of being abused by a family member.6
Providing a safe environment for your child is critical.
Child Sexual Abuse and Child Trafficking
It Is Critical to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Support Survivors
The trauma of child sexual abuse causes symptoms that can affect survivors for years, even decades, after the abuse has stopped. The effects of sexual abuse can manifest in multiple ways and may cause a survivor to feel broken and alone. And because sexual abuse is experienced in secret and often carries with it a stigma and sense of shame, survivors may not disclose the abuse, and likely don’t know where to turn for help.
Survivors of child sexual abuse may suffer from:
Declines in physical health
- Survivors are 5 times more likely than the general population to be hospitalized for a physical
or mental health problem. 8
- More than 70% of survivors experience moderate to severe levels of insomnia.9
Challenges with mental health
- Survivors experience higher rates of substance abuse, with 1 in 5 survivors developing an alcohol or illegal drug dependency by age of 30, which was twice the rate of those who had not experienced sexual abuse.10
- Survivors are 3 times more likely than the general population to attempt suicide. And as survivors age, the risk of suicide attempt(s) increases.11
- Survivors experience higher rates of depression, eating disorders, anxiety, intimate partner violence, and post-traumatic stress disorder.12
- Survivors of child sexual abuse are more likely to drop out of high school, with rates up to 40% higher than the general population.13
Child Sexual Abuse and Its Impacts Cannot Be Ignored
Help Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
If you or someone you care about is a survivor of child sexual abuse, there are steps you can take to promote healing.
For Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
- Seek out resources that provide evidence-based techniques to nurture healing and build feelings of safety.
A trauma-informed therapist may be helpful as you learn new information and practice new skills. In addition to a therapist, consider attending a Saprea Retreat or Support Group.
- Learn about Saprea Retreats.
- Learn about Saprea Support Groups.
- Saprea Healing Webinar.
- Learn more about sexual abuse trauma and the long-terms effects it can have on the brain and body. Understanding the impact of trauma can help you make sense of some of the things you do, feel, or experience—all of which can help reinforce that you are normal and that you aren’t alone. To begin, explore our online resources for information about sexual abuse trauma’s effects and potential symptoms, as well as practices you can use to promote healing.
- Believe that healing is possible, and that you are capable of doing the work to increase your life satisfaction, reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and strengthen the connection between your brain and body.
For Supporters of Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
- Believe survivors when they disclose sexual abuse.
This is the most important thing you can do for a survivor because it can lead to next steps for healing. Oftentimes survivors report that the most painful part of the experience was when loved ones doubted their experience or refused to intervene.
- Ensure the survivor’s safety.
If the survivor is at risk of experiencing additional sexual abuse, put barriers in place that block the offender’s access. Report sexual abuse to authorities. (Depending on your location, you may be legally obligated to report sexual abuse.)
- Listen to the survivor.
Allow them to share what they want to share without pressuring them to share more than they are ready to.
- Understand what to watch for by becoming familiar with signs of child sexual abuse.
If you see something that is cause for concern, say something.
- Encourage the survivor to seek professional help from a licensed, trauma-informed therapist. And, invite them to learn more about Saprea’s resources for sexual abuse survivors.
- Learn more about the traumatic effects of child sexual abuse.
As you educate yourself on how trauma can impact the brain and body, you will be more able to support the survivor in your life and understand what they are experiencing.
- Talk about the issue of child sexual abuse and advocate for change. Be the voice that brings the topic to the light so it can no longer thrive in secrecy. Contribute time, money and energy to fighting child sexual abuse.