What Is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual Abuse
1. Introduction

What Is Sexual Abuse?

Think about this.

No one, including a member of your family, has the right to look at or take pictures of your sexual parts, touch your body in sexual ways, make you look at or touch their body, make you watch their sexual activities or sexual movies, or have sex with you. No one has the right to threaten harm to you or to anyone else if you tell someone about sexual abuse. You have the right to seek help from someone who will be able to protect you.1

How many young people have been abused?

Many young people have been sexually abused or know someone who has been abused. Most young people who have experienced sexual abuse were abused by someone they know: a parent or sibling, another relative, or someone they know outside their family. Some abusers are individuals that young people loved and trusted. Others are acquaintances and still others are strangers.

It is hard to know exactly how many young people have been sexually abused. In 2008, at least 80,000 children (anyone under 18) were sexually abused in the United States. But these are only the cases that have been officially reported. Many children don't tell anyone about abuse. Therefore, many more than 80,000 young people may have been sexually abused in 2008. Here are the best estimates:

  • About 1 in 4 girls have been sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • About 1 in 6 boys have been sexually abused before the age of 18.2

1 (Adapted from Gary F. Kelly, Sex and Sense: A Contemporary Guide for Teenagers.
Barrons Educational Series, Inc.: Hauppauge, New York, 1993.)
2 (Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study of the CDC data collected between