Child Sexual Abuse FAQs

Below are answers to common questions about child sexual abuse and sex offenders. Knowing the facts can help you protect your family and stop abuse before it starts.

How prevalent is child sexual abuse?

In the United States, 1 in 10 children is sexually abused by the age of 18. For more information about this, visit Darkness to Light, a child abuse prevention program.

Are children most likely to be sexually abused by strangers?

No, 80 to 90 percent of sexual offenders abuse children who are family members or children they know. When sexual abuse occurs within a family, it is likely to continue for a period of time, even years, until it is discovered and stopped.

Are sexual offenders only male?

No, both males and females can sexually offend; however, males represent a higher percentage of known sex offenders.

Do sex offenders stop abusing children as they age?

While most other criminals decrease their criminal activity as they age, sex offenders typically do not. Most sex offenders continue to offend until they are physically incapable. Successful completion of sex offender treatment can interrupt this behavior; however, extreme caution around children is still necessary.

Won’t I hear about most sexual offenders in my community on the news or through sex offender registries?

The media often reports information on only the highest risk offenders. And while each state has a sex offender registry, the requirements dictating who must register and what information participants must provide varies from one state to another. The fact is the majority of sex offenders are unknown to the general public, either because information isn’t publicized or because they haven’t been caught yet.

How does child sexual abuse begin?

Child sexual abuse usually begins with a sex offender gaining the trust of both child and parent and forging a friendship with them. Once a relationship has been established, the offender will test a child’s knowledge and ability to protect themselves. Sexual jokes, back rubs, “accidental” sexual touching, and hugging, often done in the presence of the parent, are utilized to test the waters. If these behaviors are not called out as inappropriate, the offender will increase the amount and type of sexual exposure. To adjust a child to sexual activity, offenders commonly utilize casual or “accidental” exposure to pornography. This entire process is known as "grooming."

Can sexual abuse ever be deterred?

It is always the responsibility of adults to ensure children’s safety. Visit Darkness to Light, a child abuse prevention program, for information about how to protect your child.

​Do children who have been sexually abused need therapy?

Sexual abuse can cause long-lasting problems well into adulthood. It is important to get children into counseling after abuse has been disclosed. It is also often necessary and healthy for adult survivors of child sexual abuse to re-enter counseling at various periods of their life to assist in working through issues that resurface.