Even as an early career psychologist working with sexually abused children, I didn’t quite understand the prevalence or scope of the problem. Only later, as I became more involved in helping children, did I realize just what an incredibly severe problem it is.
Child sexual abuse impacts at least 1 in 4 boys and 1 in 3 girls by age 18. These are conservative statistics because the great majority of victims never report their abuse. In fact, a number of sources indicate that 85% of child abuse victims never report their abuse.
According to the FBI, “child molestation is one of the most under-reported crimes: only 1% to 10% are ever disclosed.” This means at least 30% of the population of the United States will be sexually abused by age 18.
That figure (30%) is consistent with a figure published by the US Department of Human Services, which estimates 28% of the population is sexually abused by age 18. Another study indicates that upward of 40% of females and 30% of males are molested by age 18.
Even when victims do come forward, most perpetrators are not prosecuted. District attorneys often won’t prosecute with only one or two children as victims or witnesses.
Studies also show that prisons are filled with victims of sexual abuse, as are drug and alcohol rehabs – with estimates ranging from 50% to as high as 95% of the prison population. And a study of prostitutes found that more than 75% of teenage prostitutes report having been sexually abused prior to becoming prostitutes.
Child sexual abuse also has an enormous economic impact. A study conducted by the US Department of Justice estimated the cost of child sexual abuse to society, including healthcare and correctional services, to be $23 billion.
These statistics are staggering and the consequences of abuse are devastating. Victims often experience Post Traumatic Stress-type symptoms including anxiety and depression. Many start using drugs and alcohol to medicate themselves against their unpleasant memories and feelings. They typically also develop problems with trust and relationships.
Child sexual abuse is not limited to the United States. In fact, it occurs all over the world. The global community needs to adopt an assertive approach to prevent sexual abuse. Proactive methods need to be practiced to reach out to victims and offer confidential education and the treatment they desperately need. We need to aggressively bring perpetrators to justice.
Silent No More Foundation is dedicated to ending child sexual abuse, and we are encouraged by the outcomes of sexual abuse scandals such as those involving Jerry Sandusky and Penn State and Larry Nassar and the US Olympic Gymnastics team.
A revolution has begun, one that is reducing the stigma associated with reporting oneself as a victim. More victims are now speaking up -- and they are gathering strength from victim heroes who have spoken out and fought for justice before them.
Silent No More is committed to fueling and facilitating this revolution in powerful ways.