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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:

  • Exhibitionism, or exposing oneself to a minor

  • Fondling

  • Intercourse

  • Masturbation in the presence of a minor or forcing the minor to masturbate

  • Obscene phone calls, text messages, or digital interaction

  • Producing, owning, or sharing pornographic images or movies of children

  • Sex of any kind with a minor, including vaginal, oral, or anal

  • Sex trafficking

  • Any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child's mental, emotional, or physical welfare

Who are the perpetrators of child sexual abuse?

The majority of sexual offenders against children are someone the child knows. As many as 93% of victims under the age of 18 know their abuser. People who sexually assault children look and appear to act like everyone else. They do not usually stand out as a threatening person. The abuser is usually someone in the child's circle of trust such as a family member, other close relatives, youth group staff, coaches, teachers, and any adult in a position of power over the child. Most abusers are considered by those around them as loyal friends, good employees, and responsible members of society. Often the abuser will gain the trust of the child's family or parent in order to gain access to the child. This will allow the abuser alone time with the child in order to commit the sexual abuse.

Grooming is a common tactic abusers will use to gain the trust of the child and be able to use it as a tool of manipulation. There are many forms of grooming behaviors depending on the access to the child. These types of behaviors will change depending upon the age of the child. For younger children, it may involve playing games, going on outings, or getting presents while for adolescents it may involve the discussion of their personal lives, access to cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol, and sharing “secrets” that they don’t tell their guardians.

Behavioral Signs in Adults

Some behaviors are distinct, while others are harder to detect. Some red flags could be:

  • Doesn’t appear to have a regular number of adult friends and prefers to spend free time interacting with children and teenagers who are not his own;

  • Finds ways to be alone with a child or teen when adults are not likely to interrupt, e.g. taking the child for a car ride, arranging a special trip, frequently offering to baby sit, etc.;

  • Ignores a child’s verbal or physical cues that he or she does not want to be hugged, kissed, tickled, etc.;

  • Seems to have a different special child or teen friend of a particular age or appearance from year to year;

  • Doesn’t respect a child’s or teen’s privacy in the bathroom or bedroom;

  • Gives a child or teen money or gifts for no particular occasion;

  • Discusses or asks a child or teen to discuss sexual experiences or feelings;

  • Views child pornography through tapes, photographs, magazines or the Internet. (In addition to being an important behavioral sign, possessing, viewing and/or selling child pornography is a criminal offense and should be reported.)

Child sexual abuse can be hard to detect. Be cautious of who you let into your child's circle of trust. Carefully consider situations that place your child in a one-on-one situation with an adult. Support activities for your child that involve a group setting.

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse is not easy to detect. Sincce most perpetrators are someone the child knows; it can be very difficult to notice changes in your child to suspect sexual abuse. Consider the following warning signs:


Children who have been sexually abused have many of the same fears as adult survivors. They may feel it is their fault. Feel alone and helpless. Feel guilt and embarrassment. The most important thing you can do for a child is believe them. It is rather uncommon for a child to make up something like sexual abuse. The sexual abuse will have an impact on the child, but without help; the child will be at a far greater risk for emotional, social, and physical problems developing into adulthood. These additional problems could lead to unhealthy coping skills such as alcohol use, drug use, tobacco, eating disorders, sexual promiscuity, and self-harm or suicide.

If you or someone you know has been sexually abused as a child, contact Passages 24/7 for free, confidential help at 800-236-4325. You are not alone and help is available.

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