Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent engages a child for the purpose of sexual stimulation and gratification. The forms of child sexual abuse are wide ranging and far more often than not, have lifelong negative consequences.
What is Child Sexual Abuse?
Child Sexual Abuse can take many forms. It can involve indecent exposure to a child with the intent of gratifying an offender’s own sexual desires, to groom a child for sexual contact, or to involve them in child pornography. With this in mind, it is easy to understand that child sexual abuse is considered an umbrella term used to describe what can be classified as either criminal or civil offenses in which most often an adult takes sexual advantage of a minor for the purpose of sexual gratification.
Child sexual abuse can take place in many different environments and involve many different perpetrators. One of the most common, but often not thought of is child marriage; a form UNICEF has called the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls. Unfortunately, even after the immediate abuse is completed, there are many forms of long-term effects, nearly all of them lasting a lifetime for the victims. These can include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and even further victimization in adulthood.
Regardless of how you classify child sexual abuse, it is most important to understand that the American Psychiatric Association states that “children cannot consent to sexual activity with adults,” and condemns any such action by an adult. “An adult who engages in sexual activity with a child is performing a criminal and immoral act which can never be considered normal or socially acceptable behavior.
Child Sexual Abuse Statistics
According to a 2009 study published by the Clinical Psychology Review, an analysis was done of 65 studies conducted in 22 countries. This analysis showed that an estimated 19.7 percent of females and 7.9 percent of males had been sexually abused at some time during their lives. Further, the study found that the country with the highest incidence of child abuse is Africa (34.4 percent), due primarily to the high rate of South Africa, compared to the rest of the continent. European countries have the lowest rates of child abuse (9.2 percent). The United States and Asia have rates between 10.1 and 23.9 percent. The incidence rates in North America are similar with approximately 15-25 percent of women and 5-15 percent of men had been sexually abused as youngsters.
Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
Numerous studies done on the effects of child sexual abuse have shown that there are both short-term and long-term harm that often result. The results of these abuses can include, but are not limited to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, low self-esteem, somatization, sleep disorders, and several others, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Children can react in many different ways, including regressive behavior such as bedwetting, or thumb sucking, and an even stronger indicator is acting out of sexual knowledge and interest, especially when it would ordinarily be inappropriate. Victims of sexual abuse also often withdraw from school and exhibit learning difficulties. They often also withdraw from social activities that beforehand gave them satisfaction and joy. Victims of child sexual abuse can also exhibit behavioral problems such as cruelty to others and animals. Teen pregnancy and other risky sexual behaviors are also common in adolescence. Self-harm is also another behavior that often affects sexual abuse victims.
Long Term Effects
Those who experience child sexual abuse and especially where the abuse is repeated, the continuation of the abuse to others is common. There is some evidence of casual relationships between childhood sexual abuse and other pathologies, such as incidence of crime, suicide, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Males who were sexually abused are reported to be at higher risk of ending up in the criminal justice system than non-abused counterparts. It is also noted that those who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse have higher health care costs than others.
Studies have also found that 51 to 79 percent of sexually abused children exhibit some kind of psychological symptoms. The risk of harm to a victim is also higher if the abuse is a relative of the victim. And it is also noteworthy that if abuse involves intercourse or even attempted intercourse, threats or the threat of force is often used. And even if or when the threat is removed the social stigma against victims remains, although there is considerable evidence to show that this effect is minimized when there is a supportive family network involved.
Physical Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
Depending on the individual child involved, the degree or force and/or threat of force used, child sexual abuse may cause serious physical injuries. There can be such internal or external injuries as lacerations, contusions, and/or bleeding. Infections such as vaginitis and sexually transmitted diseases are also common in instances of child sexual abuse. Those who suffer child sexual abuse can even end up with broken bones, internal injuries, and even death. In fact, according to one study done of North Carolina sexual abuse cases, six certain and six probable deaths were the result of child sexual abuse. Causes of death included trauma to the genitalia, rectum, and sexual mutilation.
The Mental Health Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
The physical injuries that are often associated with child sexual abuse victims is only the tip of a much larger iceberg. This look does not begin to tell the complete story of the mental toll that child sexual abuse has on its victims. The reality is the according to many studies of the subject, the traumatic stress accompanying said abuse can be responsible for significant brain function and development. Studies have also shown that victims of severe child sexual abuse can suffer irreversible brain dysfunction and even epilepsy-like symptoms.
There have also been studies that have shown more quantitative results of child sexual abuse such as lower math SAT scores for those who are victims of repeated sexual abuse as opposed to those in a non-sexual abuse sample. Further, there is a strong association between the occurrence of child sexual abuse and the short term memory impairments that are common for such victims.
According to a 2000 World Health Organization report, “Action in schools is vital to reducing sexual and other forms of violence. In many countries a sexual relationship between a teacher and a pupil is not a serious disciplinary offence and policies on sexual harassment in schools either do not exist or are not implemented and enforced. In recent years, though, some countries have introduced laws prohibiting sexual relations between teachers and pupils. Such measures are important in helping eradicate sexual harassment in schools. At the same time, a wider range of actions is also needed, including changes to teaching training and recruitment and reforms of curricula, so as to transform gender relations in schools. Regardless, it can be effectively argued that world leadership needs to be implemented in all fields for effective results to happen. Thus far, however, those results have been very slow in coming.”
It only takes a single look at the United States to see that there are many advances that need to be made before significant progress can be made to help reduce the incidence of child sexual abuse. Whether it be in the classroom, the home, or the neighborhood, the numbers of child sexual abuse are still too high. It seems like, just as an example, that it just takes a single viewing of the evening news to realize that child sexual abuse can and does happen virtually everywhere. Whether the situation is parent or parental figure/child, teacher/child or any other, the potential threat is where and might even be ever present. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a single answer to the problem. Or even if there is a single answer at all. Perhaps it will require a society-wide answer, and a threat is probably always there as it always has been. Vigilance is probably part of the answer, but in this quick and easy answer world, it seems unlikely that there is one. Perhaps that is the most distressing of all the viewpoints, especially those who care most for children and their welfare, to identify those who are most likely to offend to the detriment of all.