Sexual Abuse

  • back of child and adult walking

There is a wide variation among estimates of the number of children who are the victims of sexual abuse.

This stems from differences in how abuse is defined, the time periods over which studies are conducted, and the understanding that many cases of child sexual abuse are never reported to officials. Thus estimates range from 1.2 victims per 1,000 and 1.9 victims per thousand in studies focusing on occurences in one year to between 90 and 280 per thousand found in a survey of adults who experienced some sexual abuse or assault in their childhood.

Despite the discrepancy in data, there are certain general statements that can be made regarding the victims and perpetrators of sexual assault.


  • Females are more at risk than males.
  • Children from low-income families are more at-risk.
  • Children who are victims of other forms of crime, violence and abuse are more at-risk.


  • Men perpetrate most sexual abuse and sex crimes.
  • Sex offenders against children tend to be juveniles or young adults under the age of 30.
  • Most sexual abuse and sex crimes are committed by people who know the victims. Acquaintances are most often the perpetrators, followed by family members and then strangers.

Source: CCRC Childhood Sexual Abuse Fact Sheet.

Video Presentation David Finkelhor, Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, June 25, 2020

The Prevention of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Finkelhor, D. (2009)

This paper examines initiatives to prevent child sexual abuse, which have focused on two primary strategies—offender management and school-based educational programs. Recent major offender management initiatives have included registering sex offenders, notifying communities about their presence, conducting background employment checks, controlling where offenders can live, and imposing longer prison sentences. Although these initiatives win approval from both the public and policy makers, little evidence exists that they are effective in preventing sexual abuse. Moreover, these initiatives are based on an overly stereotyped characterization of sexual abusers as pedophiles, guileful strangers who prey on children in public and other easy-access environments and who are at high risk to re-offend once caught. In reality the population is much more diverse

Statutory Sex Crime Relationships between Juveniles and Adults: A Review of Social Scientific Research
Hines, D., and Finkelhor, D. (2007)

This paper reviews the social scientific literature about non-forcible, voluntary sexual relationships between adults and juveniles, what we have termed “statutory sex crime relationships” or “statutory relationships,” finding that public policy on the topic of these relationships could clearly benefit from a considerably more detailed understanding of the nature of these relationships as well as from an understanding about youths' capacity in the realms of sexual knowledge and decision-making ability and their role in the relationship and power dynamics in such situations.

Why have Child Maltreatment and Child Victimization Declined
Finkelhor, D. and Jones, L. (2006)

Various forms of child maltreatment and child victimization declined as much as 40–70% from 1993 until 2004, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, sexual assault, homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, and larceny. Other child welfare indicators also improved during the same period, including teen pregnancy, teen suicide, and children living in poverty. This article reviews a wide variety of possible explanations for these changes: demography, fertility and abortion legalization, economic prosperity, increased incarceration of offenders, increased agents of social intervention, changing social norms and practices, the dissipation of the social changes from the 1960s, and psychiatric pharmacology. Multiple factors probably contributed. In particular, economic prosperity, increasing agents of social intervention, and psychiatric pharmacology have advantages over some of the other explanations in accounting for the breadth and timing of the improvements.