Child Sex Abuse

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PA Childline: 800-932-0313

SAFE2SAY: 1-844-SAF2SAY (732-2729)

Childhelp: 1-800-422-4453

Every 9 Minutes on average in a year,
a U.S. child welfare investigator officially determines that a child has been sexually abused.1


What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse takes many forms.  Some involve touch.  Others do not.  Some forms of abuse include:

  • Exposing one’s sexual body parts to a child
  • Sexual conversations with a child
  • Sending sexual emails, videos, or texts to (i.e., “sexting”) a child
  • Touching a child in a sexual manner – on any part of their body
  • Oral, vaginal, or anal sex with a minor who cannot give consent
  • Making, owning, or sharing images or videos of children that are sexually suggestive or explicit
  • Forcing a child to engage in any kind of sexual behavior
  • Leaving a child alone with someone who has a history of sexually abusing others
  • Helping someone else arrange to sexually abuse a child (trafficking)


Sexual abuse can happen one time or many times over a period of years.  Often, children and teens are too afraid to tell.  


This behavior is not normal, although abusers may try to tell the child it is. This is a manipulative tactic to keep the child or teen quiet. 

Sexual Abusers

Warning children about “stranger danger” isn’t enough.  Over 90% of the time, children are abused by someone they know.


An abuser may be …

  • Male, female, or nonbinary

  • An adult, a teen, or a child

  • A relative

  • Someone close to the family, such as a family friend or parent’s significant other

  • A person in authority, such as a teacher, coach, religious leader, or mentor  


While some sexual abusers may only be sexually attracted to children, most are not. Many adult sexual abusers are married or involved in sexual relationships with other adults. 

Physical Signs and Symptoms

Learn more about the physical signs and symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse.


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Behavioral Signs of Sexual Abuse

Children can be affected by sexual abuse in many ways. The following are not proof of abuse.  They are signs that something is wrong.  They should not be ignored.


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Suspicious Behaviors

Most abusers take steps to keep sexual abuse a secret.  But, some concerning behaviors may be noticeable. The following behaviors do not prove abuse.  But, they are concerning and should be addressed.


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How Common is Child Sexual Abuse?

Because of the secrecy and stigma that often surround sexual abuse, it is difficult to determine how common child sexual abuse is.  One nationally representative survey of 17-year-olds[2] found that:
1 in 4 of girls and 1 in 20 of boys have experienced sexual abuse. 1 in 9 of the girls and 1 in 50 boys reported abuse by an adult. What we can be sure of is: The sexual abuse of one child is too many!

Why are Children with Disabilities Especially Vulnerable?

Children with disabilities are at increased risk for child sexual abuse.3 Sometimes, the nature of their disability makes them more vulnerable. Some examples:
  • An abuser may pretend (and tell the child) that sexual touching is just them helping with personal care (e.g., bathing, grooming, toileting).

  • An abuser can limit a child’s ability to escape abuse by taking away mobility aids (e.g., crutches, wheelchairs) or threatening to strand them somewhere.

  • A child with communication difficulties may not have the vocabulary or communication skills to disclose abuse in a way that convinces others.

  • A child’s credibility may be questioned because of an intellectual disability or emotional disturbance.

  • Bias against persons with disability and stereotypes about sexual abuse may cause some people to dismiss the idea of a particular child being sexually abused by a particular person (e.g., He’s a good-looking guy. Why would he want to have sex with someone like that?)

1 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2020). Child maltreatment 2018. Available from /statistics-research/child-maltreatment

2 Finkelhor, D., Shattuck, A., Turner, H. A., & Hamby, S. L. (2014). The lifetime prevalence of child sexual abuse and sexual assault assessed in late adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 55(3), 329–333. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.12.026

3 Smith, N. & Harrell, S. (2013). Sexual abuse of children with disabilities: A national snapshot. Washington, DC: VERA Institute of Justice Center on Victimization and Safety; 2013.  Retrieved September 30, 2020, from


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