According to WHO, one in five adult women and one in 13 adult men report sexual abuse in childhood. OECD data from 2014 show that of the participating countries, Mexico ranks first in sexual abuse and homicides of children under 14. Most alarming is that only 30% of sexual assaults on children are reported .

What is child sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse is any forced sexual activity between a child and an older person . These activities are divided into sexual behaviours without physical contact and sexual behaviours with physical contact.

Sexual behaviors without physical contact include :

  • Sexual comments in front of the child.
  • Display of genitals in front of the child, sometimes masturbation may occur.
  • Spying on the child while bathing or changing
  • Display of pornography to the child or adolescent.
  • Inducing the child or adolescent to undress or masturbate in front of the aggressor

Sexual behaviors with physical contact are :

  • Touching intimate parts above or below clothing.
  • Inducing the child to touch the abuser.
  • digital or object penetration (either in the anus or in the vagina)
  • Oral sex
  • Penile penetration

Contexts in which sexual abuse can occur :

  • Victim and aggressor
  • Group sex
  • Sex Rounds
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Child pornography
  • Child prostitution

Risk factors

Thirty per cent of sexually abused children were victims of a family member, 60 per cent of an acquaintance and only 10 per cent did not know their attacker.

Unfortunately, there is no specific profile in children that determines the occurrence of abuse or violence , nor a specific profile of a child sex abuser. Abusers can be of any age, sex and religion, usually representing figures of respect or authority for the child (even the parents themselves).

All children are vulnerable to being violated in some way, especially children under 4, but there are also situations that could increase the risk of sexual abuse, for example:

  • Children who are in the care of someone other than their parents
  • Lack of sex education.
  • Need for affection and/or attention.
  • New partners of the parents.
  • Shyness and/or isolation.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Lack of communication in the family.
  • Teenagers with a history of substance abuse.
  • Physical or intellectual disability.

Alarm signals

There are present and recurrent warning signs in children who have been violated, although they cannot always be easily detected, these are


Behavioral warning signals :

  • Games: young children act out the abuse they have experienced with their dolls.
  • Enuresis and/or ecopresis.
  • Any setback in development for no apparent reason.
  • Tantrums.
  • Night terrors.
  • School failure.
  • Relationship problems.
  • Hypersexuality and/or autoeroticism.
  • Unusual sexual knowledge for age.
  • Compulsive masturbation.

Physical alarm signals :

  • Irritation in the genital area.
  • Sexually transmitted infections.
  • Bumps, bruises or any sign of physical abuse.
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches.

Emotional signs :

  • Mood swings
  • Crying
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
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    Behavioral warning signals :

    • Social isolation
    • School failure
    • Addictions
    • Difficulty sleeping or sleep disorders
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Unusual sexual knowledge for age
    • Prostitution
    • Promiscuity
    • Default
    • Leakage from the home

    Physical alarm signals :

    • Bumps or bruises.
    • Sexually transmitted infections.
    • Unwanted pregnancy.
    • Frequent headaches or stomach aches

    Emotional signs :

    • Depression
    • Mood swings
    • Abulia
    • Anxiety
    • Lack of motivation
    • Guilt
    • Suicidal ideation
    • Anxiety disorders

    How can child sexual abuse be prevented?

    • It promotes self-esteem, security and values from childhood.
    • It encourages communication. Whether it is with a child or a teenager, it is best for them to know that there is someone they can trust and someone who can help them if they feel threatened.
    • Teach them to identify dangerous situations according to their age and their personal situation.
    • Never force them to kiss or have physical contact with other people . It is common that when young children do not want to kiss relatives, the parents force them, however, this decision to decide on physical contact can give them strength to “defend” themselves when someone tries to touch them in an inappropriate way.
    • Hygiene and body care . The less dependent the children are on personal hygiene, the better it is for them to know that under no circumstances can they be touched inappropriately.
    • Encourages boundaries . We have to teach the children that they cannot exceed the limits that we, the caregivers, set for them, but not in an arbitrary way; on the contrary, it is important to explain to them assertively that in everything and for everything there are rules that cannot be transgressed.
    • It encourages empathy. Teach them to learn how to say “I don’t like it” so that in a situation that is not to their liking they can say “I don’t want to” or “I don’t like it”.

    What to do if you suspect sexual abuse?

    Abusers can be both men and women, of any age (other minors can also be abusers) and religion, usually a figure of respect or authority for the minor.

    Whenever sexual abuse of a child is suspected, action must be taken to protect the child’s integrity at all times. It must be remembered at all times that it is a crime that must be reported to the appropriate authorities, regardless of who the sexual abuse is from.

    Testing for sexual abuse should include medical and psychological evaluation with professionals trained in such diagnosis.

    The prognosis will depend on multiple factors, such as: age of the child, context, support network and abuse situation . However, all children who have suffered sexual abuse need a therapeutic process adapted to their needs and probably also medical care, depending on the physical damage.