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Resources for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse and Their Families

Are you or a loved one a survivor of child sexual abuse? Our guide provides information on recognizing signs of abuse, reporting it, and getting the mental health help you need.

Last Updated: May 19, 2022
Resources for victims of child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a prevalent issue worldwide. Although it’s a difficult occurrence to measure because of lack of reporting, RAINN (The Rape and Incest National Network) estimates that a case of CSA is substantiated every nine minutes in the US. A staggering 34% of survivors are under 12, while 66% are between 12-17.¹

The trauma of CSA often leads survivors to experience long-lasting mental, physical, and emotional health issues. It’s important to be able to spot signs of CSA and know what to do if a child discloses abuse to you.

This guide provides information on CSA, including risk factors, reporting methods, and ways to cope. It’s never too late to get the help you need to recover from CSA.

Jump to:

What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse facts and stats
Recognizing signs of abuse
Long-term impacts
Resources for survivors
Resources for loved ones
How to report child sexual abuse
Child trafficking
Moving forward
References

What is child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse (CSA) is defined as any sexual encounter with a minor. Children cannot consent to sexual activity. This ranges from sexual conversations that are not age-appropriate to pornographic images of children to oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Any level of sexual activity that involves a minor is CSA, even if it does not involve physical touch. CSA has long-lasting physical and psychological consequences for the child.²

Children may be abused by a wide variety of adults in their lives. These include relatives, caretakers, family friends, and adults they may know from school, the community, or places of worship. Most children are abused by someone they know, and one-third of abusers are relatives.³

We often think of child sexual abuse occurring between an adult and a child. While this does happen, it’s essential to remember that CSA can also occur between minors, specifically minors of different ages. For example, an older sibling may engage in sexual abuse with a younger sibling. Even children of the same age may engage in harmful sexual activities with each other.⁴ No matter the perpetrator, experiencing sexual abuse can impact the survivor’s mental state for many years, including higher incidences of depression, PTSD, addiction issues, and suicide.⁵

Legal definitions of what constitutes CSA vary by state. You can use the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) State Law Database to find the legal definition of CSA in your state and get assistance with reporting or seeking other help.

If you have thoughts of suicide, reach out to a friend or relative. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or 911.

Child sexual abuse facts and stats

Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a worldwide issue. It impacts children and families regardless of race, ethnicity, nation of origin, religion, or socioeconomic status. Here are some facts and statistics about CSA to help you gain a deeper understanding of this issue.

  • In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that around 20% of girls and 14% of boys in North America had experienced some form of sexual abuse.⁶
  • The WHO also estimates that 150 million girls and 73 million boys experience CSA worldwide. This includes 1.2 million victims of child trafficking and 1.8 million children forced into prostitution or pornography.⁷
  • In a survey of 34,000 Americans, 10.14% had experienced CSA before age 18. Of the respondents, 75.2% were women, and 24.8% were men.⁸
  • Estimates of the prevalence of CSA are impacted by disclosure. Many children who experience CSA don’t report it until adulthood. In one study, about 43% of survivors disclosed CSA within one month, 31% within one year, and 26% never reported the abuse to anyone.⁹
  • Children are most vulnerable to CSA between the ages of 7 and 13.¹⁰
  • Some noted risk factors make children more susceptible to CSA. These include living with only one parent or living in homes marked by conflict, violence, or divorce.¹⁰

Recognizing signs of abuse

We know that many survivors of CSA never report the abuse. But adults should stay vigilant and look for signs that a minor has been abused. These signs can range from physical to psychological symptoms, including:

  • Inappropriate sexual behavior or language
  • Knowledge of sex that isn’t age-appropriate
  • Withdrawing affection from family members
  • Self-harm
  • Expressions of anxiety, depression, or low self-worth
  • Pain, injuries, or bleeding in the genital area
  • Negative changes to academic performance
  • Hygiene changes, such as refusing to bathe or bathing more frequently¹¹

There are also certain situations and qualities that make a child more likely to experience abuse. For example, girls are more likely to experience CSA than boys. And children with intellectual disabilities or those who have been victims of physical or emotional abuse are more likely to experience sexual violence. Other qualities that predispose a child to CSA include:

  • Coming from a divorced family
  • Living with a step-parent
  • Being in the foster care system
  • Living in a low-income neighborhood
  • Being from a rural area
  • Spending time alone with authority figures¹¹

Here are some resources that can help you prevent abuse and recognize abuse signs:

Long-term impacts

Like any form of abuse, CSA can have long-lasting mental, emotional, and physical consequences for survivors. Even if a child reports the abuse and receives help right away, they may still live with long-term effects into adulthood. The most common impacts include substance abuse, PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Survivors can also develop chronic health conditions like hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and obesity.¹²

Here is some information from scientific studies performed about CSA’s long-term effects:

  • A 2022 study of male CSA survivors showed that experiencing CSA affects the autobiographical memory function in the brain.¹³ Another study in 2021 showed that CSA negatively impacted male survivors’ working memory as well.¹⁴
  • A 2021 study showed that survivors of CSA had a lower health-related quality of life as adults than those who had not been abused. Compared with subjects who did not experience CSA, more survivors reported their general health as poor and experienced more mentally and physically unhealthy days per month.¹⁵
  • Adult survivors of CSA are at a higher risk of intimate partner violence and sexual assault in their adult years.¹²

Resources for survivors

If you’re a teen or adult survivor of CSA, resources are available to help you cope. Research reveals that experiencing CSA can lead to emotional, psychological, and physical repercussions that can follow survivors into adulthood. Utilizing the resources in this guide and elsewhere can help survivors move forward from CSA and lead healthy, well-adjusted lives.

Other resources

Resources for loved ones

Parents, caregivers, guardians, teachers, and other loved ones and family members may also seek advice when they suspect a child is a victim of CSA or if a child discloses abuse. It is a heavy responsibility to suspect or know that a child has been abused, and you may wonder how to handle your own emotions while caring for the child. You may also wonder how to report the abuse, get help for the child, or move forward. The resources below can help you get started.

Other resources

How to report child sexual abuse

If a child or teen discloses sexual abuse, you may wonder what to do next. Reporting CSA to the authorities is an important step in keeping the survivor safe and demonstrating your support. But definitions of what constitutes CSA vary by state, and there are multiple ways to report abuse. Luckily, online resources are available to help you figure out the best way to advocate for the survivor in your life.

Child trafficking

When we think of child sexual abuse, we may think of it happening in the home or at a place familiar to the child, like school or a place of worship. But another facet of CSA is child trafficking, which involves forcing or coercing a child to leave home and then exploiting the child.

Child trafficking occurs for various reasons, including sexual exploitation, but traffickers may also force children into labor, crime, or slavery. Sexual, physical, and emotional abuse are often used to control victims.¹⁶ Human trafficking has been reported in all 50 U.S. states,¹⁷ and 25% of the more than 40 million people trafficked each year are children.¹⁸

There are some warning signs for spotting a child or teen that is being trafficked, including if they:

  • Aren’t sure where they’re from or who their parents are
  • Spend a lot of time indoors or doing household chores
  • Can’t or won’t share information about their living situation
  • Don’t attend school and are seen more often in a workplace¹⁶

If you suspect that a child is being trafficked, there are numerous organizations you can consult for more information.

Moving forward

A CSA survivor has many options to help them move forward from abuse trauma. If the abuse is disclosed and reported in childhood, a general practitioner can connect parents and guardians with other healthcare professionals to help both the survivor and their loved ones recover. Treatments may involve:

  • Therapy
  • Support groups
  • Medication
  • Self-care

Therapy for survivors of CSA usually includes trauma-informed care. This type of care acknowledges the trauma, helps patients feel safe, includes them in the healing process, cultivates resilience and strength, and honors their identity.¹⁹ Therapists may also suggest that survivors and their loved ones participate in group therapy to help them tell their stories and receive support.

Survivors may also be prescribed medication for depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. A general practitioner can diagnose some mental health conditions, but diagnosing more complex conditions (like PTSD) requires a visit to a psychiatrist.

Lastly, survivors can engage in self-care to mitigate the effects of trauma. This could include journaling, exercising, reaching out to friends and family, reading books to better understand your trauma, and many other activities.

References

[1] Children and teens: Statistics. (2022). RAINN. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.rainn.org/statistics/children-and-teens

[2] Child sexual abuse. (2022). RAINN. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://rainn.org/articles/child-sexual-abuse?_ga=2.257722635.1286014040.1652733140-1052526208.1652733140

[3] Child sexual abuse. (2017) Medline Plus. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/childsexualabuse.html

[4] Child sexual abuse. (2022). American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.aamft.org/Consumer_Updates/Childhood_Sexual_Abuse.aspx

[5] Sexual abuse. (2020). American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Child-Sexual-Abuse-009.aspx

[6] Global status report on preventing violence against children. (2020). World Health Organization. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.who.int/teams/social-determinants-of-health/violence-prevention/global-status-report-on-violence-against-children-2020

[7] Murray, L. K., Nguyen, A., & Cohen, J. A. (2014). Child sexual abuse. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 23(2), 321–337. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4413451/

[8] Pérez-Fuentes, G., Olfson, M., Villegas, L., Morcillo, C., Wang, S., & Blanco, C. (2013). Prevalence and correlates of child sexual abuse: a national study. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 54(1), 16–27. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3518746/

[9] McElvaney, R. (2013). Disclosure of child sexual abuse: Delays, non-disclosure and partial disclosure. Child Abuse Review. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.nationalcac.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Disclosure-of-child-sexual-abuse-Delays-non-disclosures-and-partial-disclosures.-What-the-research-tells-us-and-implications-for-practice.pdf

[10] Child sexual abuse statistics. National Center for Victims of Crime. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://victimsofcrime.org/child-sexual-abuse-statistics/

[11] Signs of childhood sexual abuse. (2022). American Academy of Family Physicians. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://familydoctor.org/signs-childhood-sexual-abuse/?adfree=true

[12] Melmer, M., & Gutovitz, S. (2021) Child sexual abuse and neglect. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470563/

[13] Chiasson, C., Moorman, J., Romano, E., & Smith, A. (2022). Traumatic autobiographical memories: Preliminary fMRI findings among men with histories of childhood sexual abuse. American Journal of Men’s Health, 16(3). Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35536174/

[14] Chiasson, C., Moorman, J., Romano, E., Vezarov, M., Cameron, A., & Smith, A. (2021). The influence of emotion on working memory: Exploratory fMRI findings among men with histories of childhood sexual abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 122, 105340. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34571357/

[15] Downing, N. R., Akinlotan, M., & Thornhill, C. W. (2021). The impact of childhood sexual abuse and adverse childhood experiences on adult health related quality of life. Child Abuse & Neglect, 120, 105181.Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34247038/

[16] Child trafficking. (2022). National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/types-of-abuse/child-trafficking/#what

[17] Child trafficking. (2022). UNICEF. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.unicefusa.org/mission/protect/trafficking

[18] Child trafficking statistics. Child Liberation Foundation. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://liberatechildren.org/child-trafficking-statistics

[19] Purkey, E., Patel, R., & Phillips, S. P. (2018). Trauma-informed care: Better care for everyone. Canadian Family Physician, 64(3), 170–172. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5851387/