Children and Sexual Abuse: A Common and Often Hidden Problem

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and it is an issue that is deserving of our attention.

We’re always shocked and saddened to hear that a young child or teenager has been sexually abused. It’s your classic “I never would have expected…” type of scenario. However, unfortunately, the sexual abuse of children is more common than you may think.

Take a moment to digest these startling numbers:

  • One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday             
  • One in five children is sexually solicited while online
  • 93 percent of children who are sexually abused knew, trusted or loved their attackers
  • 67 percent of sexual assault victims are under 18; 34 percent are under age 12; and 14 percent are under age 6
  • 45 percent of pregnant teens report a history of child sexual abuse


Child predators are often outgoing, likeable and seem sincere and honest. According to clinical psychologist and lecturer Anna Salter, Ph.D., “A double life is prevalent among all types of sex offenders. … The front that offenders typically offer to the outside world is usually a ‘good person,’ someone who the community believes has a good character and would never do such a thing.”

Research also shows that child predators methodically choose their victims. Especially vulnerable are children who are perceived to be pretty, “provocatively” dressed, young, or small. With a victim in mind, the offender wins the child’s friendship and trust and manipulates him or her into sexual activities.

OK, so what steps should you take?

The most important thing you can do to protect your children is to learn about child sexual abuse and reduce the risks. Be mindful when allowing your children to be alone with adults. Also monitor their Internet use. Openly talk with them when it comes to understanding their bodies and appropriate touching. Casually chat with them to stay current on the adults in their lives.

Physical signs of sexual abuse are uncommon, but physical reactions, like chronic stomach pain and headaches are. Emotional and behavioral signs include too-perfect behavior, nightmares, sleep problems, anger, depression, withdrawal, fear, excessive crying, regressing to childlike behavior and age-inappropriate sexual behavior and language.

If a child tells you he or she has been sexually abused, believe the child. It’s a myth that children lie or embellish stories of sexual abuse.

Offer support and let the child know you believe them, love them and are proud of them for telling you. But don’t ask leading questions about the details or investigate yourself. Instead, report the abuse to Child Protective Services, your local Child Advocacy Center, and/or the police.

In Baltimore and the surrounding counties, Family and Children’s Services provides child abuse and sexual assault treatment services, including individual, family, and group counseling. We strive to provide a safe, trusting environment where individuals can begin the healing process and make the transition from victims to survivors.

For more information on our services call 410-366-1980 or visit fcsmd.org.

F.T. Burden is CEO of Family and Children’s Services of Central Maryland. He can be reached at ftburden@fcsmd.org

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