Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse is a topic covered in the Select 5-Minute Pediatrics Topics.

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Sexual abuse is the involvement of children in sexual activities that they cannot understand, for which they are not developmentally prepared, to which they cannot give informed consent, and/or that violate societal norms.

  • Ranges from oral, genital, or anal contact; fondling; child pornography; prostitution; exhibitionism; and voyeurism
  • Twenty-five percent of perpetrators are parents, and 30% are non-parental relatives.
  • Most children sexually abused will have no discernible physical injury.


  • ∼150,000 substantiated cases/year; most likely underestimates the incidence as these include only those cases reported
  • Prevalence rates between 10 and 30%. The National Violence Survey reported 27% of adult women and 16 % adult men reported sexual abuse during childhood.

Risk Factors

  • Peak age of vulnerability: 7–13 years of age
  • Girls are victimized more than boys, although abuse of boys is underreported.
  • Single-parent households, domestic violence, parental substance abuse and mental illness
  • Children who experience other types of abuse are also more likely to be victimized sexually.
  • Race and socioeconomic status do not appear to be risk factors for child sexual abuse.
  • Risk factors for revictimization: younger aged children; more severe maltreatment; families with mental health and substance abuse problems and violence histories

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