The intent of this chapter is to illustrate the prevalence of child sexual abuse which is indicated by recent population surveys. Characteristics of victims and offenders that can be derived from these studies are also identified.
Most of the early literature regarding the sexual abuse of children was based on clinical samples; that is, persons were studied who had already been identified as having problems of some kind (e.g., Meiselman 1978). While this information is useful and necessary within a treatment perspective, it is generally agreed that those cases which reach official attention are only the ‘tip of the iceberg’, visible evidence of a hidden and potentially more frightening reality. A more fundamental question is to what extent sexual abuse occurs, undetected or unreported, in the larger population.
‘Public and professional acknowledgement that significant numbers of children are sexually abused by their relatives and caretakers did not really begin to emerge until the mid-70s’ (Sgroi 1982b:1). As more and more survivors in North America chose to reveal their histories, a fuller understanding of their trauma was identified and disseminated by public media. Validation by other survivors gave strength to self-help groups, and in addition professional groups began to hear and believe that child sexual abuse was a serious and widespread phenomenon. These changes occurred in England about four years after the development of a new consciousness of the problem in Canada and the United States. But it became clear that no particular culture was immune, and the problem in Britain was as serious