Child Sexual Abuse

When a perpetrator intentionally harms a minor physically, psychologically, sexually, or by acts of neglect, the crime is known as child abuse. This page focuses specifically on child sexual abuse and the warning signs that this crime may be occurring.

What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse that includes sexual activity with a minor. 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. Child sexual abuse does not need to include physical contact between a perpetrator and a child. Some forms of child sexual abuse include:

  • Obscene phone calls, text messages, or digital interaction
  • Fondling
  • Exhibitionism, or exposing oneself to a minor
  • Masturbation in the presence of a minor or forcing the minor to masturbate
  • Intercourse
  • Sex of any kind with a minor, including vaginal, oral, or anal
  • Producing, owning, or sharing pornographic images or movies of children
  • Sex trafficking
  • Any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child's mental, emotional, or physical welfare

What do perpetrators of child sexual abuse look like?
The majority of perpetrators are someone the child or family knows. As many as 93% of victims under the age of 18 know the abuser. A perpetrator does not have to be an adult to harm a child. They can have any relationship to the child including an older sibling or playmate, family member, a teacher, a coach or instructor, a caretaker, or the parent of another child. According to 1 in 6, “[Child] sexual abuse is the result of abusive behavior that takes advantage of a child’s vulnerability and is in no way related to the sexual orientation of the abusive person.”

Abusers can manipulate victims to stay quiet about the sexual abuse using a number of different tactics. Often an abuser will use their position of power over the victim to coerce or intimidate the child. They might tell the child that the activity is normal or that they enjoyed it. An abuser may make threats if the child refuses to participate or plans to tell another adult. Child sexual abuse is not only a physical violation; it is a violation of trust and/or authority.

How can I protect my child from sexual abuse?
A big part of protecting your child is about creating a dialogue. Read more to learn about creating this dialogue and keeping your child safe.

What are the warning signs
Child sexual abuse isn’t always easy to spot. The perpetrator could be someone you’ve known a long time or trust, which may make it even harder to notice. Consider the following warning signs:

Physical signs:

  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Bloody, torn, or stained underclothes
  • Bleeding, bruises, or swelling in genital area
  • Pain, itching, or burning in genital area
  • Frequent urinary or yeast infections

Behavioral signs

  • Shrinks away or seems threatened by physical contact
  • Exhibits signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Expresses suicidal thoughts, especially in adolescents
  • Self-harms
  • Develops phobias
  • Has trouble in school, such as absences or drops in grades
  • Changes in hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively
  • Returns to regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking
  • Runs away from home or school
  • Overly protective and concerned for siblings, or assumes a caretaker role
  • Nightmares or bed-wetting
  • Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors

Where can I get help?

  • If you want to talk to someone anonymously, call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800.4.A.CHILD (422-4453), any time 24/7.
  • Learn more about being an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
  • To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

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