Information from Darkness to Light

Child Sexual Abuse is an Adult Issue

One in 10 children in the US will be sexually abused before the age of 18.  Adults are responsible for the safety of children and adults should be taking proactive steps to protect children from sexual abuse.  It is unrealistic to think that a child should be responsible for fending off sexual advances by an adult.

Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse

Using an evidence-informed approach, these guidelines provide simple and practical actions you can take to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse

Step 1: Learn the Facts

The facts about child sexual abuse can be staggering, but they can help us understand the risks children face.

  • 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th
  • 30% of children are abused by family members.
  • As many as 60% are abused by people they family trusts.
  • About 35%of victims are 11 years or younger
  • Nearly 40% are abused by older or larger children.

Consequence to children and our society begin immediately.

  • 70-80% of sexual abuse survivors report excessive drug and alcohol use.
  • One study showed that among male survivors, 50% have suicidal thoughts and more than 20% attempt suicide.
  • Young girls who are sexually abused are more likely to develop eating disorders as adolescents.
  • More than 60% of teen first pregnancies are preceded by experiences of molestation, rape or attempted rape.
  • Both male and females who have been sexually abused are more like to engage in prostitution.
  • The CDC estimates that child abuse costs us billion annually.
  • Sexually abused children who keep the abuse a secret or who “tell” and are not believed are at greater risk for psychological, emotional, social, and physical problems, often lasting into adulthood.

Step 2: Minimize Opportunity

If you eliminate opportunities for children to be in isolated, one-on-one situations, you can dramatically reduce the risk of abuse.

Reduce risk.  Protect children.

  • Think carefully about the safety of any isolated, one-on-one settings. Choose group situations when possible.
  • Think carefully about the safety of situation in which older youth have access to younger children. Make sure the multiple adults are present who can supervise.
  • Set an example by personally avoiding isolated, one-on-one situations with children other than your own.
  • Understand that abusers often become friendly with potential victims and their families, enjoying family activities, earning trust, and gaining the time alone with children.
  • Monitor children’s Internet use. Offenders use the Internet to lure children into physical contact.

CREATE AND LOBBY FOR POLICIES reducing or eliminating isolated, one-on-one situations in all youth serving organizations, such as faith groups, sports teams, and school clubs. These policies should ensure that all activities can be interrupted and observed.

  • Talk with program administrators about the supervision of older youth who have responsibility for the care of children.
  • Insist on screenings that include criminal background checks, personal interviews, and professional recommendations for all adults who serve children. Avoid programs that do not use ALL of these methods.
  • Insist that youth serving organizations train their staff and volunteers to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.
  • Ensure that youth serving organizations have policies for dealing with suspicious situations and reports of abuse.

ONE-ON-ONE TIME with trusted adults is healthy and valuable for a child. It builds self-esteem and deepens relationships. To protect children while nurturing these relationships:

  • Drop in unexpectedly when the child is alone with an adult or another youth, even if it a trusted family member.
  • Make sure outings are observable – if not by you, then by others.
  • Ask adults about the specifics of planned activities before the child leaves your care. Notice their ability to be specific.
  • Talk with the child following the activity. Notice the child’s mood and whether he or she can tell you with confidence how the time was spent.
  • Find a way to tell adults who care for children that you and the child are educated about child sexual abuse. Be that direct.

Step 3: Talk About It

Children often keep abuse a secret, but talking openly about our bodies, sex, and boundaries can encourage children to share.

When we talk to children in age appropriate ways about our bodies, sex, and boundaries, children understand what healthy relationships look like. It also teaches them that they have the right to say “no.” They become less vulnerable to people who would violate their boundaries, and are more likely to tell you if abuse occurs.

Talking to Kids About Sexual Abuse

  • Teach children that it is “against the rules” for adults to act in a sexual way with them, and use examples.
  • Teach them what parts of their bodies others should not touch.
  • Be sure to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend, family member, or older youth.
  • Teach children not to give out personal information while using the Internet, including email addresses, home addresses, and phone numbers.
  • Start early and talk often. Use everyday opportunities to talk about sexual abuse.
  • Be proactive. If a child seems uncomfortable, or resistant to being with a particular adult, ask why.

Understand why children are afraid to tell.

  • The abuser shames the child, points out that the child let it happen, or tells the child that his or her parents will be angry.
  • The abuser is often manipulative, and may try to confuse the child about what is right and wrong, or tell them the abuse is a “game.”
  • The abuser sometimes threatens to harm the child or a family member.
  • Some children who do not initially disclose abuse are ashamed to tell when it happens again.
  • Children are afraid of disappointing their parents and disrupting the family.
  • Children often love the abuser, and don’t want to get anyone in trouble or end the relationship.
  • Some children are too young to understand.

Understand how children communicate.

  • Children who disclose sexual abuse often tell a trusted adult other than a parent. For this reason, training for people who work with children is especially important.
  • Children may tell portions of what happened or pretend it happened to someone else to gauge adult reaction.
  • Children will often “shut down” and refuse to tell more if you respond emotionally or negatively.

Step 4: Recognize the Signs

Do not expect obvious signs when a child is abused.  Signs are often there, but you have to know what to look for.

Learn the Signs

  • Physical signs of sexual abuse are not common, although redness, rashes/swelling in the genital area, urinary tract infections, or other such symptoms should be carefully investigated. Also, physical issues associated with anxiety, such as chronic stomach pain or headaches, may occur.
  • Emotional or behavioral signals are more common. These can run from “too perfect” behavior, to withdrawal and depression, to unexplained anger and rebellion.
  • Sexual behavior and language that are not age-appropriate can be a red flag.
  • Be aware that in some children there are no signs whatsoever.

Step 5: React Responsibly

Disclosure of sexual abuse means a child has chosen you as the person he or she trusts enough to tell. It is the moment when children learn whether others can be trusted to stand up for them.


If a child breaks an arm or runs a high fever, you know to stay calm and where to seek help because you’ve mentally prepared yourself. Reacting to child sexual abuse is the same.

When you react to disclosure with anger or disbelief, the child will likely:

  • Feel even more ashamed and guilty.
  • Shut down.
  • Change or retract the story, when, in fact, abuse is actually occurring.
  • Change the story to match your questions so future telling’s appear to be “coached.” This can be very harmful if the case goes to court.

Very few reported incidents of child sexual abuse are false.

Offer Support

Think through your response before you react. You’ll be able to respond in a more supportive manner.

  • Believe the child and make sure the child knows it.
  • Thank the child for telling you and praise the child’s courage.
  • Encourage the child to talk, but don’t ask leading questions about details. Asking about details can alter the child’s memory of events. If you must ask questions to keep the child talking, ask open-ended ones like “What happened next?”
  • Seek the help of a professional who is trained to interview the child about sexual abuse. Professional guidance could be critical to the child’s healing and to any criminal prosecution.
  • Assure the child that it’s your responsibility to protect him or her and that you’ll do all you can.
  • Report or take action in all cases of suspected abuse, both inside and outside the immediate family.
  • Don’t panic. Sexually abused children who receive support and psychological help can and do heal.

Try not to show anger toward the offender, who may be someone the child loves. You can add to the child’s burden by showing how upset you are.


Discovery of sexual abuse means you’ve witnessed a sexually abusive act by an adult or youth with a child, or you know by some other means that abuse has taken place.

Report your discovery immediately to law enforcement.

  • Tell the child’s name and where he or she lives.
  • Tell where you are at the present time, where the child is, and where the offender is, if known.
  • Tell what the child said to you.
  • Tell what interactions you saw between the alleged offender and the child.
  • Tell what other behaviors, if any, you’ve observed in the alleged offender.
  • Tell what signs in the child you’ve seen.
  • Tell what access the alleged offender has to the child.

And remember, if you discover child pornography, you’ve discovered sexual abuse. Child pornography is illegal.


Suspicion of sexual abuse means you’ve seen signs in a child, or you’ve witnessed boundary violations by adults or other youth toward a child.

Set limits. Ask questions.

If you are a “bystander” who witnesses a boundary violation, or sees a situation in which a child is vulnerable, it’s not important to know the intentions of the person who crossed the boundary. What is important is that you reinforce the boundary – even if you are in front of others, or in a public setting.

Describe the Behavior

“It’s against policy for you to be in the classroom alone with a student.”

Set a Limit

“You need to take your conversation to the student lounge.”

Move On

“I’m on my way there, now, so I’ll walk with you.”

Offenders are rarely caught in the act of abusing a child, but they’re often seen breaking rules and pressing boundaries.

Know the policies for reporting disclosures, discoveries, and suspicion in your organization.

  • In Indiana, everyone is a mandated reporter of child abuse and is required that anyone with suspicions report to law enforcement or Department of Child Services. 1-800-800-5556. All 50 states require that professionals who work with children report reasonable suspicions of child abuse.

Know the agencies that handle reports of abuse.   DCS toll free number 1-800-800-5556

  • Two agencies handle child abuse reports: Department of Child Service and law enforcement.
  • If the legal system does not provide adequate protection for a child, visit the National Center for Victims of Crime at ncvc.orgor call 1-800-FYI-CALL for referral information.

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