Who Are The Victims?
The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted on the links between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. Conducted by the federal CDC and Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest HMO, the study found that of 17,000 members surveyed, 16% of men and 25% of women indicated they had had sexual contact with an adult or older child when they were children. This supports other previous studies in which 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males reported having experienced some form of sexual abuse or exploitation before age 18.
Victims include infants, toddlers, young children and teens. Children ages 8 to 11 comprise the largest number of sexually abused children while teens from 14 to 17 represent a third of victims. The fastest growing age group experiencing sexual abuse is children 6 and under. Children with physical and mental disabilities are especially vulnerable. The problem is enormous and so are its consequences.
Victims of child sexual abuse often experience feelings of confusion, guilt, shame, and anger about what happened to them. Survivors of child sexual abuse relate feeling robbed of their right to a safe and healthy childhood. They describe feelings of hopelessness, difficulty trusting others, low self-esteem, and self-destructive behaviors. Many suffer into adulthood with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, relationship problems, and further physical or sexual victimization.
With support from loved ones and/or help from professionals, many survivors do find hope and healing. However, children who are sexually abused and who can’t tell anyone or don’t receive appropriate help when they do tell, are at far greater risk than the general population for emotional, social, and physical problems.
Without appropriate help as children to cope with their traumatic feelings many turn to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, overeating, or promiscuous sexual behaviors. According to the ACE Study, these attempts to cope with past trauma are also high-risk health behaviors that can cause diseases that are among the most frequent causes of death in our country, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
It is clear that our country is spending billions of dollars each year to deal with the aftermath of child abuse – costs which are born by our health care system, our courts, law enforcement agencies, and our child protection and social services systems.
If we can prevent child sexual abuse from happening in the first place or identify victims early on, we can significantly change these outcomes for children, our families, and our communities.
Reporting suspected child sexual abuse is everyone's responsibility - whether a mandated reporter or a private citizen. If you suspect a child has been sexually abused contact your local child protective services. To locate the child protective services reporting number in your state, as well as other resources call the Childhelp line at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.