Sexual Abuse of Children and Adolescents

By Cruise, Tracy K. | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, October 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Sexual Abuse of Children and Adolescents


Cruise, Tracy K., National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


according to a national study, at least 12 of every 1,000 children in the united states were reported abused or neglected in 2005 (u.s. Department of Health and Human services, 2007). child sexual abuse accounted for about 9% of these reports in 2005, with 12-15 year olds accounting for the largest age group. approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 8-10 boys are sexually abused by the age of 18.

to create a meaningful example, consider a K-12 district with 500 female and 500 male students. More than 100 female and 50 male students in this system have experienced sexual abuse. assuming these victims are distributed evenly across grades, there are approximately 8 female and 4 male victims of sexual abuse at each grade level. so, in a seventh-grade literature class, there may be as many as 12 victims of sexual abuse. since children often experience more than one type of maltreatment, it is likely that several of these identified victims would also be victims of other forms of abuse or neglect.

child sexual abuse can have immediate and long-term consequences on an individual's physical, cognitive, interpersonal, and emotional functioning. thus, it is important for parents and educators to familiarize themselves with the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse, to know what to do if faced with a child who has been molested, and to take appropriate steps toward the prevention of sexual abuse.

characTerisTics Of sexual aBuse

the federal definition of child maltreatment is included in the child abuse Prevention and treatment act (caPta; Public law 104-235). each state also has a criminal definition for sexual abuse that typically details age differences between the perpetrator and victim and is used to determine penalties. although legal definitions vary from state to state, when sexual contact between a minor (someone under the age of 18) and someone 5 or more years older occurs, it is likely that the minor is being used for the adult's sexual gratification.

sexually abusive acts involve a child who is unable to give informed consent. there is an inequality of power between the child and the abuser on the basis of age, physical size, and/or the nature of the emotional relationship. sexual abuse may take many forms and vary in terms of frequency/duration, nature of the acts involved, and the use of force or coercion. sexual abuse may involve acts of contact, such as kissing in a sexual way, fondling, oral-genital contact, or intercourse. sexual abuse could involve the victim in noncontact sexual behaviors, such as being forced to view pornography or the perpetrator engaging in self-stimulation, forcing the child to masturbate, photographing the child's intimate parts, or making sexual comments to the child.

aBusers aNd VicTims

there are several known characteristics of those who abuse and their victims.

Perpetrators. contrary to the myth that most perpetrators are strangers, children typically know and trust their abuser. Males perpetrate the majority (80-95%) of sexual abuse, although there are certainly cases involving female offenders. Girls are more likely to be sexually abused by someone within their family, such as a parent, stepparent, grandparent, uncle, cousin, or sibling, while boys are more likely to be sexually abused by someone outside of the family, such as a coach, teacher, neighbor, or baby-sitter. adults, adolescents, and even prepubescent children may perpetrate sexual abuse. Despite increased use of internet filtering or blocking software, youths continue to report exposure to unwanted sexual material and sexual solicitations online. in some instances, the solicitor attempts to gain further access to the minor by phone, mail, or in-person meetings.

Potential victims. While there is no typical child victim, it is possible to make some assumptions about risk factors for sexual abuse. More girls than boys are sexually abused, although it is believed that boys are less likely to report their abuse than girls. …

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