Lesson 06: Childhood Sexual Assault – Definitions and Prevalence


  • Objectives
  • Introduction
  • What is Child Sexual Abuse (CSA)
  • What causes CSA
  • Forms of CSA
  • Myths about CSA
  • Prevalence of CSA


  • To understand what childhood sexual assault is
  • To understand the causes of CSA
  • To identify some of the myths about CSA
  • To discover the prevalence of CSA in various populations


Child sexual assault (CSA) is traumatic and can have life-long effects on the victim. CSA is not easily talked about or revealed in our society. It is a crime that occurs in secret and may last only moments or continue for years.

Whenever CSA occurs, the perpetrator will pressure the child to hold the secret, sometimes with threat of harm to the child or the child’s loved ones. The assault can occur without any physical touch. It may be done with words, sounds or exposure to sights which are sexual in nature. The injury often goes unrecognized, and the child is denied the opportunity to heal the wounds. As a result, the trauma often goes “underground,” only to emerge later in life, when the adult encounters life events that bring the trauma to the surface.

What is Child Sexual Assault?

CSA is a form of child abuse and is defined as the sexual exploitation of a child by an adult or a child or teen that has a developmental advantage over the victim.

Heggan (2006) referenced, “Fortune (1983) observes that sexual assault is a multidimensional sin. It is a bodily sin which violates the body of integrity of the abused and results in lifelong body-related issues for the victim. It is relational sin which violates trusts and destroys the possibility of a healthy relationship between the victim and the abused (pg.25).”CSA (also known as child sexual abuse, molestation, and incest) can be assaultive, manipulative and coercive behaviors adults or children use against children.”

Patterns include elements of:

  • Control
  • Isolation
  • Threats
  • Violence

Forms of Child Sexual Assault

Sexual Abuse – Contact
  • Child Sexual Abuse: A physical violation of a child’s body through any sort of sexual contact.
  • Incest: Sexual relations between persons who are so closely related that their marriage is illegal or forbidden by custom; the statutory crime of sexual relations with such a near relative.
  • Molestation: To accost and harass sexually.
Sexual Abuse – Non-Contact
  • Forced to watch sexual acts.
  • Forced to listen to sexual talk, including comments, tapes, and obscene phone calls.
  • Forced to look at sexually explicit material such as videos, DVDs, magazines, photographs, etc.; can be in-person, on the computer via e-mails, and otherwise through the Internet.
  • Forced to look at sexual parts of the body.

Myths and Facts about Child Sexual Assault

(Taken from Parents United, a program of Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska)

Myth: Children are most likely to be sexually abused by a stranger.
Fact: Four out of five cases of child sexual abuse occur by someone known to the child. Statistically, 80% to 85% of child sexual abuse in the U.S. is perpetrated by an individual familiar to the victim. The perpetrator is often related to the child. Less than 20% of abusers are strangers.

Myth: Sex abusers are dirty old men.
Fact: A sex abuser’s average age is 32. Any individual – male or female – can be a sexual abuser.

Myth: Sex abuse only happens in poor, uneducated socioeconomic groups.
Fact: Sexual abuse cuts across all boundaries – socioeconomic, racial, geographic, gender, and educational – equally.

Myth: All offenders are male and all victims are female.
Fact: While the majority of offenders are male, female offenders are not rare. The majority of reported victims are female, but evidence shows girls and boys are both seriously at risk for incest and sexual abuse.

Myth: Occurrences of sexual abuse and incest are rare in the U.S.
Fact: Incest is more common than most people dare to believe. Clinicians and researchers estimate that one million or more children under the age of 18 are currently involved in incestuous relationships. A national study in 1986 indicated that 35% of all children under age 18 had been sexually abused.

Myth: A discussion of sexual abuse will just frighten children.
Fact: It is important for children to receive age-appropriate information about sexual assault for their own protection. Inaccurate or no information is more dangerous to children.

Myth: Family sexual abuse is an isolated, one-time incident.
Fact: For most victims, the abuse continues for years and in most cases, the offender will not stop until there is an intervention.

Myth: Sexual abuse victims are “damaged goods” and their lives are ruined forever.
Fact: While sexual abuse is incredibly damaging, victims are not “damaged goods.” Healing is easiest when the intervention is immediate and appropriate therapy is provided. For adults who have repressed memories, the recovery process can be lengthy. However, all victims of abuse can become fully functioning, healthy children and adults. There is great hope for us all in facing and healing sexual abuse.


Even though child sexual abuse is discussed and studied, it is still believed to be understated and with that caveat the statistics that do exist are still shocking. Following are some examples:

  • 1 in 4 girls is sexually abused before the age of eighteen.2
  • 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of eighteen.3
  • 1 in 5 children are solicited sexually while on the internet.
  • Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) occur to children ages 17 and under and more than 20% of children are sexually abused before the age of eight.4
  • An estimated 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse exist in America today and 30-40% are abused by a family member.5
  • The median age for reported abuse is 9 years old.6


1. Parkinson, Patrick. Childhood Sexual Abuse and Churches: Understanding the Issues. Aquila Press, 31-32, (2003).
2. ACE Study – Prevalence – Adverse Childhood Experiences.
3. Finkelhor, D., Mitchell, K., & Wolak, J. (2001, March). Highlights of the youth internet safety survey. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. and U.S. Department of Justice (2001). “Internet crimes against children.” OVC Bulletin. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime.
4. Snyder, H N. Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: Victim, incident, and offender characteristics. National Center for Juvenile Justice, U.S. Department of Justice (2000).
5. Abel, G., Becker, J., Mittelman, M., Cunningham- Rathner, J., Rouleau, J., & Murphy, W. “Self reported sex crimes on non-incarcerated paraphiliacs.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 2(1), 3-25 (1987).
6. Putnam, F. “Ten-year research update review: Child sexual abuse.” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 42, 269-278 (2003).


1. Heggan, C. H. (2006). Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.
2. Bass, E., & Davis, L. (1988). The Courage to Heal (2nd ed.). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
3. Vanderbilt, H., “Incest: A Chilling Report”, Lear’s February, 1992.
The Rape and Sexual Assault Center, Child Sexual Abuse Treatment Program. 612-825-HELP ( 4357), 1222 W. 31st Street, Minneapolis, MN.
4. Spelman, C. (1993) Talking about Childhood Sexual Abuse. National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse.