Fact 1: Sexual abuse of a child refers to abuse of anyone too young to legally consent.
Many people think of a young child when they hear the term “child sexual abuse.” However, it is more accurate to think of victims of child sexual abuse as any young person who is younger than the legal age of consent, which is 18 in most jurisdictions. Someone who sexually abuses a minor is usually considered to have committed child sexual abuse.
Fact 2: Children tend to know the person who abused them.
Most people who molest children know their victims and commit abuse from a position of trust or power. Abusers can include family members, trusted family friends, babysitters, coaches, teachers, ministers, and others who work with children. Stranger-on-stranger child molestation is the least frequent type of sexual assault.
Fact 3: There is no “typical” child abuser.
There is no typical profile of someone who commits sexual abuse. People who sexually offend cross all socioeconomic, educational, gender, age, and cultural lines. Although most adults who sexually abuse children are male, approximately 5% are female. A slightly higher percentage of adolescents who abuse children are female. Adolescents account for approximately 35% of all sexual offenses against minors.
Fact 4: Treatment can help prevent individuals from offending.
Individuals who have sexually offended can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy and other approaches that focus on addressing inappropriate beliefs and attitudes, cognitive and emotional deficits, and a lack of self-regulation skills. As is true of any therapy, treatment is most effective when it is designed around risk-needs-responsivity principles. This requires providers to structure treatment around the individual’s risk to reoffend; address skill-building needs such as prosocial thinking, interpersonal skills, and anger management; and tailor interventions to match the individual’s learning style (responsivity).
Fact 5: Treatment can help children who have been abused recover.
Most children who are sexually abused do not go on to abuse others. However, without treatment, there is a higher likelihood this may happen, as well as a higher likelihood the child will suffer long-term depression and other negative consequences. Children and teens who have been sexually abused need to receive acknowledgment and treatment to help them deal with the impacts of sexual abuse. With the right therapy, they can recover and go on to lead positive, productive lives.
- Internet-facilitated sexual offending (2021)
- APPENDIX: ATSA Practice Guidelines for Assessment, Treatment, and Intervention with Adolescents Who Have Engaged in Sexually Abusive Behavior (2018)
- A reasoned approach: Reshaping sex offender policy to prevent child sexual abuse(2011)
- Public Health Approach To Sexual Abuse/Assault Fact Sheet
- Assessment And Treatment Considerations For Men Who Access Child Sexual Exploitation Materials
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