Hesperian Health Guides

Some facts about sexual abuse

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HealthWiki > Helping Children Who Are Blind > Chapter 12: Preventing Sexual Abuse > Some facts about sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is any direct or indirect sexual contact between an adult (or older youth) and a younger child. Sexual abuse can happen to any child. It happens in all communities, and in rich and poor families. It happens most often to girls but also to boys.

There are many different kinds of sexual abuse. Some of the most common are:

Abuse that involves touching a child

  • touching a child's sexual parts or asking a child to touch an adult's sexual parts
  • kissing or hugging a child in a sexual way
  • sexual intercourse
  • oral sex (mouth to penis or mouth to vagina)

Abuse that does not involve touching a child

  • using sexual language to shock a child or make her sexually excited
  • making a child pose for pictures
  • forcing a child to become a prostitute
  • making a child hear or watch sex between other people

Most sexual abuse starts when children are older than 5 years, but it can happen to younger children too. Most abused children are abused by someone they know, like a family member or neighbor — not by a stranger. Often the abuse goes on for a long time, sometimes for years.

We do not know exactly how common sexual abuse is, since children often do not tell anyone. But it is possible that as many as 1 of every 4 children in the world are sexually abused.

a woman speaking to 2 other women.
Sexual abuse can be physical — like intercourse, or touching or kissing sexual parts. But it doesn't have to be physical touch — it can be sexual talk too.