The Hidden Epidemic: Shedding Light on the Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse

Every day, across all countries, and levels of society, millions of girls and boys face the alarmingly common childhood experience of sexual abuse and exploitation. Where millions of cases get reported, the truth is that millions more are brushed under the carpet due to the fear of stigma or reprisals. The fact remains that sexual violence against children is traumatic and a great violation of their rights, dignity and safety. It affects both boys and girls, often in different ways, with different consequences.

The Hidden Epidemic

According to UN Women, 1, in 5 girls and 1 in 13 boys, before the age of eighteen, face some form of sexual abuse or exploitation. Despite of affecting both gender, sexual violence still remains a complex, gender-based issue as it affects the two very differently. Girls are proven to be at a higher risk in most context around the world due to the existing gender inequality, less economic opportunities and gender-based societal roles and practices. All of this makes young girls more vulnerable to sexual abuse as compared to young boys, however, when sexual violence against boys takes place, it is often unrecognized or unseen. 

Over the years, researchers have not found or done enough regarding sexual abuse against boys, creating a notable gap in the global understanding, prevention and response to this violence. The main reason for this neglect is the associated gender roles and norms that often put boys at a higher risk and forces them and their families to keep quite. The problematic beliefs about masculinity forces them to be ‘strong’ and act ‘unaffected’ in the face of violence. 

Dynamics of Child Sexual Abuse

The dynamics of child sexual abuse are often very different from adult sexual abuse. Some unique characteristics that define child sexual abuse include the fact that physical violence is very rarely used, the abuser is often known and trusted by the child, the abuse usually occurs over a period of time and can go on for years, it often starts gradually, through a process called grooming, and builds into full extent of abuse and mostly takes place within the family, hence giving rise to intra-familial abuse. 

While there is growing prevalence in its cases, people still seem to not be fully aware of child sexual abuse. This is primarily due to the culture of silence around the issue. There are many reasons behind this silence, primarily the fear of the perpetrator; who may have made threats, shame, embarrassment and lack of trust. 

Factors Associated with Child Sexual Abuse

Some situations and circumstances place children in vulnerable situations, increasing their risk of sexual abuse. Children who are mostly at the risk of sexual abuse are often the ones who are neglected by their own families, are too afraid of being punished, too afraid to say ‘no’, are physically or mentally provocative and receive little supervision. Some of the factors that make children vulnerable to abuse are:

  • Gender: WHO (World Health Organization) reported that girls are at a greater risk of being abused than boys, all around the world.
  • Age: Sexual abuse is more prevalent amongst pre-pubertal children who are unable to defend themselves.
  • Ethnicity: In multiethnic societies like the US, sexual abuse is more prevalent amongst colored peopled as compare to white people.

Summing It Up;

Preventing violence and helping victims of child abuse is everyone’s business, everywhere, at all times. We must address this issue and break the silence. If you are looking for professional help, get in touch with Sanaa’s Stars; a charitable organization that aims to combat child sexual abuse and create a supportive environment for children to heal, creating a brighter future for them. 


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