Child Abuse: Sexual

Child sexual abuse is an extremely damaging and unfortunately, largely stigmatized, form of abuse that numerous children endure. Children who experience sexual abuse often simultaneously experience emotions like shame, guilt, and confusion, and this affects their ability to report what has happened to them. Children who experience sexual abuse are wrongly and inexcusably coerced by an adult - Not only is their bodily integrity violated but also, their sense of trust, safety, and security.

"Not only is their bodily integrity violated but also, their sense of trust, safety, and security"

What Is It?

Child sexual abuse is sexual activity with a minor. A child can't consent to any form of sexual activity, and any related experiences during childhood often significantly affects a victim throughout their adult life. Although this abuse can entail physical contact between an adult and child, it can also include offences without direct contact, such as exposing a child to pornography. Children can experience sexual abuse once or during multiple incidents, and their abuse can range from involving one offender or multiple offenders, and with the use of violence or without. Children of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds can experience sexual violence.

Some examples of sexual abuse are:

  • Exposing one's self to a child

  • Fondling

  • Intercourse

  • Sex of any kind with a minor. Including vaginal, anal, and/or oral

  • Masturbation with a child present

  • Forcing a child to masturbate

  • Obscene calls, text messages, or other digital interactions

  • Producing, owning, or sharing any pornographic images of a child

  • Exposing a child to pornography

  • Voyeurism

  • Sex trafficking

Warning Signs

Sexual abuse is often hard to detect, but if you can spot it, then you can stop it. Perpetrators often use a variety of tactics to shield their actions, but some of the common warning signs are:

  • Sexually transmitted infections

  • Signs of trauma to a child's genital area (Bleeding, swelling, bruising, etc.)

  • Bloody, torn, or stained underwear

  • Difficulty walking or sitting

  • Bedwetting or soiling the bed, if the child has already outgrown these behaviours

  • Exhibiting sexual behaviour or talk that is inappropriate for a child's age

  • Not wanting to be left alone with certain people

  • Significant changes in a child's hygiene (Ex. Refusing to bathe or bathing excessively)

  • Resuming behaviours that a child had grown out of (Ex. Thumbsucking)

  • Nightmares

  • Being scared to be alone at night

  • Excessive fearfulness or worry

  • Signs of depressive and anxiety disorders and/or PTSD

How Prevalent Is It?

"93% of victims of child physical and/or sexual abuse do not speak to the police and/or CAS about their experiences before the age of 15"

According to a 2014 study, 1 in 10 Canadians reported that they were sexually abused before they turned 18. In general, Statistics Canada states that children are greater likely to be sexually abused by someone outside of their family. However, in the majority of these cases, the perpetrator is still someone known to the child. Among female-identifying victims, 54% stated that their abuser was someone outside of their family. For males, this statistic is even more staggering, with 4 out of 5 male victims identifying someone other than a relative as responsible for their sexual abuse. In 1 out of 10 cases (11%), a parent was identified as the perpetrator of sexual abuse.

Female children are said to be between 4 and 5 times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than males. That being said, females are 3 times more likely than males to report childhood sexual abuse (12% versus 4%).

In general, 93% of victims of child physical and/or sexual abuse do not speak to the police and/or CAS about their experiences before the age of 15. 67% of victims did not speak to anyone, including friends or family, about their experiences.

How Does Childhood Sexual Abuse Affect Someone?

As children grown into adolescence and adulthood, they may begin to cope with the trauma of sexual abuse by abusing substances and engaging in high-risk behaviours, including indiscriminate and unprotected sex. Many studies state that females who have been raped before the age of 18 are at double the risk of being raped in adulthood as women without a history of childhood sexual abuse.

Childhood sexual abuse has been correlated with debilitating emotions like guilt, shame, and self-blame. These often are associated with the development of issues like eating disorders, dissociative patterns, depressive and anxiety disorders, and PTSD. Survivors also often experience relationship problems during adulthood due to difficulties with trust, a fear of intimacy, and trouble establishing boundaries.

Protecting Children From Sexual Violence

The majority of perpetrators of sexual abuse are someone that a child knows. Perpetrators can have a relationship to a child in the form of an older sibling, playmate, family member, teacher, coach, instructor, etc. It is important to recognize that there is no typical profile for a sex offender. Perpetrators prey on a child's vulnerability and often ensure their silence through manipulation and intimidation tactics, such as convincing a child that they enjoyed the inappropriate activity or threatening to hurt a child or their loved one if they tell someone about what happened.

An important step towards shielding children from sexual violence is fostering safe dialogue between adults and kids. It is crucial that children know that they will be heard if they are to speak up about inappropriate behaviour. This can be done by teaching children about boundaries, their body parts, and by giving them the space to choose topics of discussion. It is also important that adults, including parents, educators, and coaches, are all well-aware of the warning signs of sexual abuse. Adults play an important role in protecting children who can't protect themselves, so if you suspect someone is being sexually abused, it is important to report it. Suspected sexual abuse should be reported to the appropriate CAS agency for your area. You can also call the ChildHelp National Abuse Hotline that can give you the details of and walk you through the reporting process. Please refer to our "Resources" section for additional resources related to sexual abuse.

Written By: Prish