Child sexual abuse (CSA; i.e., physical or nonphysical sexual acts with a child under the age of 18 in which there is no or limited capacity to provide true consent) can occur through online exploitation, child pornography, and the luring of children offline for sexual encounters. Although CSA is likely underreported, recent studies suggest that approximately 15% of girls and 8% of boys will be victims of CSA before entering adulthood. About 75% of CSA occurs with someone the child knows – family members and trusted adults from schools, sports leagues, and faith-based organizations. Approximately 23% of CSA is peer-to-peer (e.g., children under 18).
The long-term effects of CSA are serious – survivors are more likely to have physical injuries, chronic pain, STIs, and sexual dysfunction. CSA is also associated with adverse mental health outcomes, including higher rates of depression, PTSD, suicide attempts, and substance use/misuse. Strategies to prevent and treat CSA, along with barriers and recommendations for policymakers to consider, are discussed below.
Prevention and Treatment
Successful prevention efforts engage the population at multiple levels via children, caregivers, community members, and potential offenders. The most effective approaches for CSA prevention are to: 1) educate parents, caregivers, and children about bodies and safety behavior and 2) empower children to tell an adult/resist if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. *Please note the example programs listed below are alphabetized within subheadings and not listed in any preferential order. For more information about evidence-based programs, please refer to this resource.