If you are not exactly sure what child sexual abuse is, you’re not alone. All sexual touching between an adult and a child is sexual abuse. Sexual touching between children can also be sexual abuse when there is a significant age difference (often defined as 3 or more years) between the children or if the children are very different developmentally or size-wise. If an adult engages in any sexual behavior (looking, showing, or touching) with a child to meet the adult’s interest or sexual needs, it is sexual abuse.
A child cannot consent to any form of sexual activity, period. When a perpetrator engages with a child this way, they are committing a crime that can have lasting effects on the victim for years to come. Child sexual abuse does not need to include physical contact between a perpetrator and a child. Some forms of child sexual abuse include:
- Exhibitionism, or exposing oneself to a minor
- Masturbation in the presence of a minor or forcing the minor to masturbate
- Obscene phone calls, text messages, or digital interaction
- Producing, owning, or sharing pornographic images or movies of children
- Sex of any kind with a minor, including vaginal, oral, or anal
- Sex trafficking
- Any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare
Sadly, children of all ages, and children of all abilities can be abused. Disabled children are more vulnerable, which may be because they are more dependent on adults, in some cases have less awareness of what is happening, and can’t easily tell others what has happened. Lonely children may be more vulnerable through their need to be close to or be noticed by others.
Dynamics of child sexual abuse
The sexual abuse of children is a unique phenomenon; the dynamics are often very different to that of adult sexual abuse and therefore abuse of this nature cannot be handled in the same way. Features that characterize child sexual abuse include:
- Physical force/violence is very rarely used; rather the perpetrator tries to manipulate the child’s trust and hide the abuse.
- The perpetrator is typically a known and trusted caregiver.
- Child sexual abuse often occurs over many weeks or even years.
- The sexual abuse of children frequently occurs as repeated episodes that become more invasive with time. Perpetrators usually engage the child in a gradual process of sexualizing the relationship over time (i.e. grooming).
- Incest/intrafamilial abuse accounts for about one third of all child sexual abuse cases.
Child sexual abuse is an issue that makes people extremely uncomfortable, because it hurts to think about anyone harming children. However, unreported or untreated child sexual abuse not only scars children and destroys families, it also leaves offenders free to abuse and cripple future generations. A common misconception about child sexual abuse is that it is a rare event perpetrated against girls by male strangers in poor, inner-city areas. To the contrary, child sexual abuse is a much too common occurrence that results in harm to millions of children, boys and girls alike, in large and small communities, and across a range of cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds.