|What is sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse takes place any time a person is tricked, trapped, forced
or bribed into a sexual act. It most often involves unwanted touching of
the male or female victim. Child sexual abuse may be called child
molestation, child rape or incest.
Why is sexual abuse wrong?
Sexual abuse (molestation, rape or incest) is wrong because it hurts
people! Sometimes it hurts the victim physically. More often it causes
the victim to suffer psychologically. It can cause mild to severe
problems with fear, confusion, anger, shame, depression and lowered
self-esteem for the victim. It can also cause other serious problems
later in life. Most males and females who were sexually abused as children go on to
lead satisfying and productive lives, but many still suffer from the
effects of child molestation, child rape or incest in some way, even
Each person’s body is special and belongs to that person alone. Each
person has the right to decide who can touch his or her body, when it
may be touched and how. Sexual abuse violates the right of each person
to make important decisions about his or her own body.
What happens during child sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse may include any type of sexual activity. It can range from
forcible rape to gentle, but unwanted, touching. Being unwillingly
exposed to the genitals of another or forced to show one’s own genitals
to someone else is also a form of sexual abuse.
Who sexually abuses children?
Children are usually abused by someone older than themselves. Often the
person is in some position of authority over the child. This may be an
adult stranger, a parent or step-parent, an aunt or uncle, a grandfather
or grandmother, a teacher or an adult friend. It may be a teenage
babysitter, an older cousin or an older child in the neighborhood. Eight
out of ten child victims are sexually abused by someone they know and
trust rather than by a stranger.
How does child sexual abuse happen?
Although violent sexual attacks of children sometimes take place, the
sexual abuse of children usually involves more subtle force. This may be
threats of harm or threats of “telling on” the child for some misdeed.
Other times the child may be bribed with gifts or special privileges.
Children are often tricked into unwanted sexual contact. This may
involve games that start out as fun and end with unwanted contact.
Sometimes the older person tricks the child by telling him or her that
what they are doing is “OK” or that “everybody” does it, or that it is
for the child’s “own good.”
The sexual abuser’s power, knowledge and resources are greater than
those of the child victim. He or she exploits this difference to take
advantage of the child.
From a more academic standpoint,
Dr. David Finklehor's Four Pre-Conditions Model
explains in detail
how child sexual abuse can take place.
What different patterns of child sexual abuse occur?
patterns of child sexual abuse occur. These patterns
have different effects on the victim.
This type of sexual abuse may happen only once to a child. The abuser
may be a stranger or an acquaintance. The abuse occurs as an isolated
incident. A stranger may expose his genitals to a child who is walking
down the street. An acquaintance may try to touch the child’s genitals
while in a movie. A child may be kidnapped and raped. Both male and
female children are commonly the victims of brief incidents of sexual
This type of sexual abuse occurs as a part of an ongoing relationship.
The abuse starts gradually and continues for weeks, months or years. The
abuser may be a neighbor who invites the child to his house to play
regularly. It might be a teacher, pastor, camp counselor or family
friend. The victim may be male or female.
In this type of sexual abuse, the abuser is a member of the child’s
immediate family, usually a stepfather or older brother. The victim is
most often female but may also be male. The abuse usually begins
gradually but happens more often as time goes on. The abuse may go on
for years until someone outside the family discovers it or until the
child grows up and moves out of the house.
How do people use the Internet to sexually abuse children?
Some abusers find their victims on the Internet. They use chat rooms or
websites to meet children and gain their trust. Then they may exchange
sexual messages or pictures with their victims, or arrange face-to-face
meetings to abuse them.
Abusers who exploit children through prostitution or pornography
sometimes use the Internet to find other abusers who will use their
services. They also use the Internet to find children to abuse through
prostitution or pornography.
Some abusers use the Internet to meet other abusers. They share their
views about child sexual abuse, ideas about how to find and abuse
children, information about specific victims, or suggestions about how
to avoid being caught or punished for their crimes.
How many children are victims of sexual abuse?
Statistics suggest that as many as one child in every three or four in
the United States becomes the victim of sexual abuse by the time he or
she reaches the age of 18. At least 25% of adults were victims of child
sexual abuse. This means that millions of adults in the United States
today were sexually abused as children.
At what age are children sexually abused?
Children may be abused at any age from infancy to adolescence. The most
common age for sexual abuse to begin is age nine. Most sexual abuse is
reported by teenagers, but they have usually been victimized for many
years before finally reporting the abuse. Most sexual abuse,
particularly that involving a continuing relationship or incest, starts
before the child reaches puberty.
Are boys ever sexually abused?
Both boys and girls are the victims of sexual abuse. Girls are probably
victimized more frequently. Approximately ten percent of all victims
reporting sexual abuse are boys, but probably many, many more are
Why doesn’t the child victim report being sexually abused?
There are many reasons why children don’t report that someone has
sexually abused them. The very young child may not realize that the
abuser is doing anything wrong. Children are taught to obey adults. The
child may not realize at first that he or she should object.
Later the child may not tell anyone because of fear. He or she may fear
the abuser or fear not being believed. The child may fear that he or she
will be punished or blamed for the abuse or that some harm will come to
the abuser. The victim of incest may fear that the family will be broken
up if anyone finds out about the abuse. He or she may work very hard to
keep it a secret.
Another reason that children don’t tell anyone they have been sexually
abused is because of their own feelings of shame and guilt. Child
victims often believe that somehow the abuse is their fault.
Sometimes when children try to report sexual abuse, they are not
believed. They then give up trying to tell anyone else. This is
especially true if it is a parent who does not believe the child.
Do people ever forget being sexually abused as children, and then
later remember these experiences?
One way the human mind protects itself from overwhelming emotional pain
is by “forgetting” (repressing) bad memories. People who have been
through extremely frightening or painful experiences, like wartime
combat, natural disasters, torture, or sexual abuse, sometimes “forget”
Later these painful memories may come back. This most often happens when
the person feels strong enough to deal with the emotional pain of the
Can people ever have “false memories” of child sexual abuse?
People often remember the details of their experiences incorrectly.
Sometimes people “remember” events that they imagined, or that someone
convinced them really happened when it didn’t. Although some people
disagree, nearly all mental health professionals believe that most
memories of child sexual abuse are true and generally accurate, however.
Why do people sexually abuse children?
Sexual abusers usually don’t want to hurt the children they abuse. In
fact, they often like children and try to please them. Many times
abusers don’t realize how much harm their behavior causes.
Many abusers are very self-centered people who have trouble considering
anybody’s welfare but their own. Because they enjoy the sexual activity,
they believe the children do as well. Some abusers, because of their own
selfishness, just don’t care whether they harm the child or not. Some of
these people may not abuse children directly, but arrange for others to
abuse children sexually through prostitution or pornography, usually to
Most direct sexual abusers have trouble relating to people their own
age. Because they are often afraid or insecure in relationships with
people their own age, they turn to children for companionship,
friendship and sexual gratification. They feel safer and more
comfortable in relationships with children because children are more
trusting and easier to please or dominate than other adults.
Most people who sexually abuse children are not “crazy” but they do have
serious psychological problems for which they need help. Many sexual
abusers were victims of sexual abuse themselves as children.
Is the child victim to blame for the sexual abuse?
No! Even though many child victims feel guilty about being sexually
abused, what happened was not their fault. The abuser is totally
responsible for his or her own behavior.
Can a person who was sexually abused ever lead a “normal” life?
Yes! Most victims of child sexual abuse go on to lead very normal
lives. They usually function well in most areas of everyday life.
Victims of child sexual abuse have gotten themselves through some very
tough situations. This is a real accomplishment! It suggests that such
victims have some important strengths. Most victims of child sexual
abuse make successful lives for themselves in spite of the hardships
they have suffered.
For more information about child sexual abuse . . .
the complete paperback version (single copy, or in bulk) of Dr. Daugherty's bestselling book,
Why Me? Help for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse
(Even if they are adults now)
also $9.99 on
(readable on iPad, PC, Mac, iPhone, Blackberry, Android, etc.),
and available from other online booksellers, through your local
bookstore, or on
also available as ebooks . . .
Child Molestation Stories
Voices of Survivors
of Child Sexual Abuse
(Molestation, Rape, and Incest)
Why Me? Help for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse)
Child Rapists, and
Child Sexual Abuse
Why and How Sex Offenders Abuse: Child Molestation, Rape,
and Incest: Stories, Studies, and Models
© Cleanan Press, Inc. 2004-2011
All rights reserved.