Whether you are a parent, teacher, or someone else who cares for and loves children, the best defense against sexual abuse is to educate yourself and your children about it.
Child sexual abuse involves an adult engaging in any type of sexual activity with a child or adolescent. It may also involve an adolescent engaging in sexual activity with a younger child.
There are different forms of sexual abuse. Like other forms of abuse, it can be physical, verbal, or emotional. It may be subtle enough that a child does not know what’s happening, but only feels uncomfortable. Child sexual abuse may include:
In most cases of sexual abuse, the child knows the offender. The offender is often someone the child trusts or loves, such as a parent, neighbor, or relative.
Children often don’t tell others about sexual abuse because they feel frightened, ashamed, and confused. Their abusers often convince them that it must be kept a secret. Be alert for the following potential warning signs:
Here are some ways that parents can help lessen the chance of sexual abuse:
American Psychological Association
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Canadian Red Cross
Child abuse. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/child-abuse.html. Updated August 2015. Accessed June 8, 2016.
Child sexual abuse. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Child-Sexual-Abuse-009.aspx. Updated November 2014. Accessed June 8, 2016.
Defining child sexual abuse. Stop It Now! website. Available at: http://www.stopitnow.org/ohc-content/defining-child-sexual-abuse. Accessed June 8, 2016.
Lahoti SL, McClain N, Girardet R, McNeese M, Cheung K. Evaluating the child for sexual abuse. Am Fam Physician. 2001;63(5):883-893.
McDonald KC. Child abuse: approach and management. Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(2):221-228.
Responding to child sexual abuse. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Responding%20To-Child-Sexual-Abuse-028.aspx. Updated December 2014. Accessed June 8, 2016.
Sexual abuse. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/Pages/Sexual-Abuse.aspx. Updated November 21, 2016. Accessed June 8, 2016.
Tip sheet: Warning signs of possible sexual abuse in a child's behavior. Stop It Now! website. Available at: http://www.stopitnow.org/ohc-content/tip-sheet-7. Accessed June 8, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 6/8/2016