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Child Abuse Prevention - What is Child Abuse? There are 4 different types of child abuse including: physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and sexual abuse. Child abuse and neglect are defined by Federal and State laws. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) provides minimum standards that States must incorporate in their statutory definitions of child abuse and neglect. The CAPTA definition of "child abuse and neglect," at a minimum, refers to: "Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm"1

The CAPTA definition of "sexual abuse" includes: "The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children"2

Child sexual abuse has many forms and may be so subtle that the child doesn't even know it is happening. Child sexual abuse may include fondling, masturbation, oral-genital contact, digital penetration, vaginal and anal intercourse or the attempt to engage in any of these activities. Child sexual abuse is not solely restricted to physical contact; it includes exposure, voyeurism, and child pornography. 1

Accurate statistics on the prevalence of child and adolescent sexual abuse are difficult to collect because of problems of underreporting and the lack of one definition of what constitutes such abuse. However, there is general agreement among mental health and child protection professionals that child sexual abuse is a pervasive and serious problem in the United States. A 2003 study, A Health Survey of Texans: A Focus on Sexual Assault, reported that 4% of males and 16% of females under the age of 17 have been sexually assaulted.

Child sexual abuse can take place within the family, by a parent, step-parent, sibling or other relative (incest); or outside the home, by a friend, neighbor, child care person, teacher, or stranger. The reality is that your child is most at risk for sexual assault from someone he or she knows. The offender uses their position of trust to gain access to the child, then manipulates, tricks for forces the child. The process that an offender uses to befriend a child and slowly introduce sexual aspects to that "friendship" is called grooming.

When a child is being sexually abused they often become trapped between affection or loyalty for the abuser and the sense that the sexual activities are terribly wrong. If the child tries to break away from the sexual relationship, the abuser may threaten the child with violence or loss of love or may threaten to harm others close to the child. When sexual abuse occurs within the family, the child may fear the anger, jealousy or shame of other family members, or be afraid the family will break up or be dishonored if the "secret" is revealed.

The majority of the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are persons known to the child-relatives, caretakers, neighbors, teachers, coaches, clergy, etc. Sexual abuse by strangers is not nearly as common as sexual abuse by family members. Research shows that men perpetrate most instances of sexual abuse, but women can also be offenders. Despite a common myth, homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men. Except for the fact that they like to have sex with children, child abusers look and act pretty much like everybody else.

When sexual abuse has occurred, a child can develop a variety of distressing feelings, thoughts and behaviors. The degree to which a child is impacted depends upon several variables. These include the 1) relationship between the victim and the offender-the more a child trusts and loves the offender, the more traumatic the event may become; 2) the duration of the sexual abuse-children who have had to live with regular sexual abuse are more impacted, as their survival becomes connected with the abuse; 3) the type of sexual acts-those that involve physical harm or injury and those that may not be physically violent, but are emotionally traumatic to the child. While counter intuitive, physical abuse is easier to understand as clearly wrong and not something the child wanted or brought on themselves. Non-violent abuse often leaves children struggling with feelings of guilt for enjoying some aspects of the abuse and is more difficult for a child to clearly label as wrong; 4) the child's age and developmental level-younger children may not understand that what the offender did to them was harmful; 5) the reaction of the parents or other important people around the child. Children need to know that their loved ones believe them, assure them it was not their fault, and protect them from future abuse.

Click the links below to get more information on Child Sexual Abuse:
Warning signs of child sexual abuse
Responding to child sexual abuse
Protecting children from child sexual abuse
Child abuse reporting requirements

1. American Psychological Association