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about child sexual abuse

PLEASE NOTE: The following content contains information about child sexual abuse and may be triggering for survivors of this crime. If you or someone else is in need of information or support, please contact Bravehearts on freecall 1800 272 831 (Mon-Fri, 8:30am-4:30pm AEST).

Child sexual abuse remains a global problem that knows no physical, financial, socioeconomic, geographical, cultural or gender boundaries. Its impacts are far reaching for children, families and communities.

All forms of child sexual abuse are a profound violation of the human rights of the child and a crime under law.

Below you will find statistics about child sexual abuse and information about the effects, indicators and prevention of child sexual abuse. 

The Stats

Approximately 1 in 5 children will experience child sexual abuse1.

Children rarely lie about sexual abuse. In 98% of all child abuse cases reported to officials, children’s statements were found to be true2. 

Child sexual abuse is a crime that affects all races, economic classes and cultural groups. Children of all genders and ages are abused, even toddlers and babies3.

In at least 90% of child sexual abuse cases, the offender is known to the family4.

A child aged 0-9 years is approximately 40 times more likely to be the victim of sexual abuse than of kidnapping or abduction5.

References: 
1. Mills, Kisely, Alati, Strathearn, & Najman, 2016.
2. NSW Child Protection Council, cited in Dympna House 1998; Oates, Jones, Denson, Sirotnak, Gary & Krugman, 2000.
3. James, 2000; Centre for Disease Control & Prevention, 2006; Collin-Vézina, Daigneault, & Hébert, 2013; Dube et al., 2005.
4. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2019
5. Der Bedrosian, 2018; McKibbon, 2017; Finkelhor, Omrod & Chaffin, 2009

Effects of Child Sexual Abuse

Children and young people who have been sexually abused can suffer a range of psychological and behavioural problems, ranging from mild to severe, both in the short and long term. These effects vary depending upon the circumstances of the abuse, the child’s developmental stage, responses to the child's disclosure and the level of support the child receives in the disclosure's aftermath. Children who are supported and believed when they disclose abuse are less likely to endure long term negative impacts. Learn more about responding to disclosures.

POTENTIAL SHORT TERM EFFECTS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
  • Increased illness, body aches or other physical complaints
  • Poor attendance or performance at school
  • Difficulty concentrating or memory loss
  • Mood changes
  • Regressive behaviours
  • Sleeping and eating disorders
  • Lack of self-esteem
  • Nightmares
  • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts
  • Self-hatred or reduced self-esteem
  • Disinhibited behaviour
  • Aggression
  • Zoning out or not listening

POTENTIAL LONG TERM EFFECTS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Self-harm
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Inability to form lasting relationships
  • Identity difficulties
  • Relationship problems
  • Parenting difficulties
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • The development of violent behaviour
  • The development of criminal behaviour

Indicators of Child Sexual Abuse

Below is a list of potential indicators that a child or young person may be experiencing sexual harm. If you or someone else is in need of information or support, please contact Bravehearts on freecall 1800 272 831 (Mon-Fri, 8:30am-4:30pm AEST).

POTENTIAL INDICATORS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
  • Unusual or new fears, sometimes around touch
  • Difficulty concentrating or with memory
  • Eating or sleeping changes
  • Fear of being alone with a particular person
  • Sexual themes in artwork, stories, play etc.
  • Showing a knowledge of sexual behaviour beyond their years
  • Bed-wetting or soiling after being toilet trained
  • ‘Acting out’ behaviours (aggression, destructive behaviours, truanting behaviour)
    ‘Acting in’ behaviours (withdrawal from friends and family, depression)
  • Vaginal, penile or anal soreness, discharge or bleeding
  • Problems with friends and schoolwork
  • Vague symptoms of illness such as headache or tummy ache
  • Self-harm (cutting, risky behaviour)
  • Zoning out or not listening

Preventing Child Sexual Abuse

BREAKING THE SILENCE

Bravehearts has been working to prevent child sexual abuse for a quarter of a century, dragging this insideous crime out of the shadows and shining a light on the devestating effects it has on victims, families and society.

Before Bravehearts began speaking out about child sexual abuse, it was a taboo subject in the media and society at large. Survivors rarely shared their stories publicly and there was scant support services for those who did. 

Perpetrators of child sexual abuse thrive on silence, secrecy and shame, which is why breaking the silence around this crime is an important key to prevention. 

EDUCATING CHILDREN & YOUNG PEOPLE

An essential aspect of preventing child sexual abuse is personal safety education from a young age. Providing children with age-appropriate information around body ownership and the right to be safe allows for these messages to become part of their everyday language and helps build children's self-esteem and resilience, and importantly, teaches them the language they need to speak up if they feel unsafe or are harmed. 

Bravehearts Ditto's Keep Safe Adventure program provides children with these foundational personal safety skills, to date having educated over one million children throughout Australia.

Bravehearts ProjectYou! builds on these skills by educating young people about personal safety issues relevant to high schoolers, including consent, respectful relationships, online safety, laws around sexting and more. 

There is much parents and carers can do at home to help build their children's personal safety skills and knowledge too. Bravehearts has some great resources available to get parents and carers started with this - check out the Resources for Parents and Carers section of this site.

RESPONDING TO DISCLOSURES & SUPPORTING SURVIVORS

Preventing child sexual abuse means believing victims and taking childrens' disclosures of harm seriously. Every adult, especially those who work with or around children, should learn how to respond appropriately to a disclosure so the child feels safe and heard. Likewise, adult survivors need to be supported and feel safe and heard.

When a survivor of child sexual abuse, whether they be a child or an adult, feel safe, seen and heard, their disclosure may lead to the conviction of the perpetrator and the prevention of further harm.

Resources for Parents & Carers

Resources to help you teach your children about personal safety.

Get Support

Find support for yourself or someone you know who has experienced child sexual abuse.

Register for Bravehearts Day

Register now to help prevent child sexual abuse.

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