Childhood sexual abuse (CSA)


Childhood sexual abuse may be defined in many ways, but this fact sheet refers to unwanted sexual body contact prior to age 18, the age of consent to engage in sex. CSA is a painful experience on many levels that can have a profound and devastating effect on later physiological, psychosocial and emotional development. CSA experiences can vary with respect to duration (multiple experiences with the same perpetrator), degree of force/coercion or degree of physical intrusion (from fondling to digital penetration to attempted or completed oral, anal or vaginal sex). The identity of the perpetrator–ranging from a stranger to a trusted figure or family member–may also impact the long-term consequences for individuals. To distinguish CSA from exploratory sexual experimentation, the contact should be unwanted/coerced or there should be a clear power difference between the victim and perpetrator, often defined as the perpetrator being at least 5 years older than the victim. Many more children are sexually abused than are reported to authorities. Estimates of the prevalence of CSA in the US are about 33% for females under the age of 18 and 10% in males under 18 years of age. Men are significantly less likely than women to report CSA when it occurs. CSA is more likely to occur in families under duress. Children are at risk for CSA in families that experience stress, poverty, violence and substance abuse and whose parents and relatives have histories of CSA.

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