Children of all ages, from babies to adolescents,
may be sexually abused. Child sexual abuse may occur once
or many times over a period of months or years.
Children find it difficult to tell anyone they have been
abused. They often feel shame and are told by their abusers
that they willl be hated, rejected, or disbelieved if they
tell. Also, if the abuser threatens the child or someone
the child loves, the child may not question the abuser's
power to carry out the threat.
Children want to tell about their abuse so it
can stop, but they often fear they will not be believed
or protected. It's not uncommon for children to delay reporting
their abuse for a year or more after it has happened. Victims
are more likely to come forward if another victim discloses
abuse by the same offender or if asked direct questions
about the possibility of abuse.
In the case of incest especially, victims may not disclose
their abuse until they become adults and many may never
tell. Abusers manipulate their victims by enforcing secrecy;
they create in the child a sense of fear of destroying privacy
and security provided by family.
Less than 2 percent of all allegations are false; in cases
where children appear to have made false accusations, it
was usually the result of adult manipulation.
False denials of sexual abuse (claiming abuse did not happen
when it did) and recanting disclosure (denying abuse after
having told someone about it) is far more common than false
Because they fear the impact that disclosure will have
on the family, children often recant truthful allegations
Adults' reactions to disclosure significantly impact how
the child comes to view his/her abuse and his/her role in
it. (See The Effects of Sexual Abuse.)
Adult women sexually molested as children are more likely
than non-victims to suffer both physical and psychological
Adult men who were sexually abused as children are prone
anxiety, and suicidal
ideation. Those who were repeatedly sexually abused
and who also suffered emotional abuse often have poor mental
health and report interest in or sexual contact with children.
Sexual abuse victims who were also physically and emotionally
abused as children are the most likely to suffer health
problems and further abuse as adults.
Most offenders are known to their victims. It's estimated
that about 25 percent of offenders are adolescents.
Adolescent males who sexually abuse younger children are
likely to continue to do so into adulthood without assessment
and appropriate treatment.
Most abusers are male.
It is abusers who initiate sexual activity and who are
solely responsible for the abuse, regardless of a child's
actions or participation.
A recent Canadian study revealed that in excess of 40 percent
of convicted child molesters where themselves sexually abused
as children. These abusers tended to choose victims close
to the age at which they were first abused.
Abusers use various forms of physical and psychological
coercion to ensure their victims' silence, including threats
Some offenders abuse more than 70 children before the victims
disclose their abuse. In cases where the offender has abused
a large number of victims, the abused children are more
likely to be male.
Abusers are found among all ages, ethnocultural communities,
and social classes.
Most sexual abuse takes place within the context of an
ongoing relationship between the abuser and the child (e.g.,
teacher/student, coach/player, parent/child). These types
of relationships allow the abuser to exploit the child's
desires and fears.