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Child Sexual Abuse: Definition and Information

By Thomas C. Weiss - 2015-02-10 - Updated: 2017-03-01


Information and defining sexual exploitation or abuse of a child including sexual intercourse or its deviations.

"Child and adolescent psychiatrists can help children who have been abused to regain a sense of self-esteem, to cope with feelings of guilt or shame, as well as to start the process of overcoming the trauma"

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Sexual abuse of a child is a horrific crime, one that must be reported to the police. At the extreme end of the spectrum, sexual abuse includes sexual intercourse or its deviations. Every offense that involves sexually touching a child, non-touching offenses, as well as sexual exploitation are equally harmful and devastate a child’s well-being.

What are these definitions? What do they mean? Let’s examine these broad categories of sexual abuse.

The definitions above are broad.

Most states in America legally define child molestation as an act of a person; adult or child, who forces, threatens, or coerces a child to have any form of sexual contact, or to engage in any type of sexual activity at the perpetrator’s instruction.

Child sexual abuse has been reported up to 80,000 times each year, yet the numbers of unreported instances is much larger because children are often times afraid to tell anyone what has happened and the legal process of reporting can be hard. The issue should be identified, the abuse stopped and the child should receive professional help. The long-term emotional damages of sexual abuse may be utterly devastating to a child.

Child sexual abuse may take place within the child’s own family - by a parent, sibling, step-parent or another relative. It may also occur outside the child’s home by a neighbor, friend, teacher, child care person, or a complete stranger. When sexual abuse has happened, a child can develop many distressing feelings, behaviors and thoughts. No child is prepared to deal with repeated sexual stimulation; even a 2-3 year old who does not know the sexual activity is wrong will develop issues resulting from problems coping with the overstimulation.

A child age 5 or older who knows and cares for the abuser may become trapped between affection or loyalty for the abuser and the sense that the sexual activity is extremely wrong. If the child attempts to break away from the sexual relationship, the abuser might threaten the child with loss of love or even violence. When sexual abuse happens within a family, the child might be afraid of the anger, shame, or jealousy of other members of the family. The child may be afraid their family will break up if they tell someone about the sexual abuse.

A child who is the victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness, as well as an abnormal or distorted view of sex. The child might become mistrustful of adults and withdrawn; they may even become suicidal due to the sexual abuse. Some children who have been sexually abused have a hard time relating to other people, except on sexual terms. Some sexually abused children become prostitutes or child abusers, or experience serious issues when they reach adulthood.

Often times there are no plain external signs of child sexual abuse.

Some signs may only be detected during a physical examination by a doctor. Sexual abuse might also include non-contact abuse such as voyeurism, exposure to pornography, or abuse by using a child to make pornographic materials. Children who have been sexually abused may also develop issues such as:

Child sexual abusers can make a child extremely worried about telling someone else.

Only when a special effort has helped a child to feel safe can they speak freely. If a child says they have been molested, parents should attempt to remain calm and to reassure the child that what has happened is not their fault in any way whatsoever. Parents should pursue a medical examination and psychiatric consultation.

Parents may prevent or decrease the chance of sexual abuse by teaching.

Telling children that if someone attempts to touch their body and do things that make them feel strange or uncomfortable they need to say, “NO!” to the person and tell them immediately is a vital lesson. Teaching children that respect does not mean open obedience to adults or those in authority is equally important. For example; do not teach children to always do everything a babysitter or teacher tells them to do is crucial.

Children who have been sexually abused, as well as their family members, need prompt professional evaluation and treatment.

Child and adolescent psychiatrists can help children who have been abused to regain a sense of self-esteem, to cope with feelings of guilt or shame, as well as to start the process of overcoming the trauma. Treatment can help to reduce the risk that the child will develop serious issues in adulthood.

The effects of sexual abuse go far beyond childhood.

Sexual abuse steals childhood from children and creates a loss of trust, feelings of guilt, as well as self-abusive behaviors. It may lead to antisocial behavior, identity confusion, depression, loss of self-esteem and additional serious emotional issues. Child sexual abuse may lead to troubles with intimate relationships later in life. Sexual victimization of children is morally, legally and ethically wrong.

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