About the Issue

What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse can be physical, visual or verbal
Although the legal definition of child sexual abuse varies by state, it is generally defined as any tricked, forced, coerced or manipulated sexual activity with a child for the sexual gratification of, or financial benefit to the abuser. Sexual abuse can be physical, visual or verbal.

Child abuse is a crime perpetrated within every ethnicity and race, gender, religion and social-economic tier.

One in four girls and one in six boys are victims of sexual abuse by their 18th birthday. This crime is severely underreported; oftentimes because it is perpetrated by someone the child/family knows and cares about. Children don’t tell for many reasons, including feelings of shame, threats, responsibility for the abuse, and fear of what will happen if they tell.


Disclosure Among Children 
Myth 1
If a child is sexually abused, she or he will immediately come and tell.
Fact: Disclosure of sexual abuse is often delayed. There are many reasons that children might not tell anyone about their abuse. Children are most often sexually abused by someone they know and trust, and feel they must keep it a secret. The child may want to protect the perpetrator. They may feel ashamed, fear that they won’t be believed, or that they will get in trouble. In addition, they may not understand that what is happening to them is abuse. 

Myth 2
Children disclose after the abuse and provide a detailed account of what has occurred.
Fact: A common presumption is that children will give one detailed, clear account of abuse. Research reflects that disclosures often unfold gradually and may be presented in a series of hints. Traumatic memory is stored differently in the brain until it is processed, so it tends to be disjointed, in bits and pieces rather than a linear, chronological narrative. This is part of what accounts for “rolling disclosures.”

Myth 3
Children are more likely to disclose if directly questioned by their parent or an adult authority figure who can help.
Fact: Children might imply something has happened to them without directly stating they were sexually abused—they may be testing the reaction to their “hint” which can then be easily missed by adults.
Fact: If they are ready, children may then follow with a larger hint if they think it will be handled well.

Statistics About Abuse

Child sexual abuse is likely the most prevalent health problem children face with the most serious array of consequences. 1

Girls and boys are both at risk. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused by their 18th birthday. (This statistic includes contact and non-contact abuse. Non-contact sexual abuse includes crimes such as sexting, pornography, voyeurism and exposure.) 2

Victims of child sexual abuse are: 3
• 4 times more likely to develop symptoms of drug abuse
• 4 times more likely to experience PTSD as adults
• 3 times more likely to experience a major depressive episode as adults

90% of abused minors know their perpetrator. 4

Only 30% of cases of child sexual assault are reported to authorities. 5

Perpetrators use technology to gain access to children/youth. Approximately 1 in 7 youth Internet users received unwanted sexual solicitations. 2


National Child Abuse Hotline
800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline



The Women’s Center of Tarrant County


1. Townsend, C. (2013). Prevalence and consequences of child sexual abuse compared with other childhood experiences.
2. The National Center for Victims of Crime (2012). Child Sexual Abuse Statistics
3. H.M Zinzow, H.S. Resnick, J.L. McCauley, A.B. Amstadter, K.J. Ruggiero, & D.G. Kilpatrick, Prevalence and risk of psychiatric disorders as a function of variant rape histories: results from a national survey of women. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 47(6), 893-902 (2012).
4. Finkelhor, D. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center. Whealin, J. (2007-05-22). Child Sexual Abuse. National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, US Department of Veterans Affairs.
5. The U.S. Department of Justice (2012). Raising Awareness about Sexual Abuse

© 2020. Play It Safe!® All rights reserved.