Child abuse and neglect knows no social, economic, religious, ethnic, or educational backgrounds. Child sexual abuse is the most prevalent health problem children face and it has the most serious consequences [1]. Even so, the public is not fully aware of the magnitude of the problem.

The Facts

  • 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will experience sexual abuse before they turn 18 years old [2].
  • Rates of child abuse are difficult to identify because abuse is not always recognized or reported by adults.
  • Only 10% of people who disclosed abuse report that their abuse was reported to the authorities [3].
  • Children under the age of four are at particular risk for child abuse and neglect.
  • On average, more than 5 children die every day as a result of child abuse or neglect [4].
  • Approximately 82% of children that die as a result of child abuse or neglect are under the age of four. Within this age bracket, children are the most vulnerable in their first year of life [5].
  • Abuse and neglect impacts more than 37,000 children a year in Colorado [6].
  • Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults occur to children ages 17 and under [7].
  • Children experience much higher rates of sexual victimization than adults.
  • Only about 38% of child victims disclose that they have been sexually abused when they are still children [8], and some never disclose their abuse [9].
  • Over 90% of abuse perpetrators are known to the victims and in a position of trust [10]. These are neighbors, friends, family members, teachers, coaches, and other children.
  • Fewer than 20% of child sexual abuse reports to police result in conviction: the majority of cases are discontinued during the police investigation [11].
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Understanding the “Grooming” Process

Abusers often form relationships with potential victims and their families prior to the abuse occurring. This is called “grooming”.

Grooming is a process by which an offending gradually draws a victims into a sexual relationship and maintains the relationship in secrecy. At the same time, the offender may also fill roles within the victim’s family that makes the offender trusted and valued [12].

The grooming process is methodical and is how offenders intentionally gain access to their victims. Perpetrators are most often known to the family and in a position of trust. They use their status within the family and the community to manipulate the child and to keep the secret of abuse.


Disclosing abuse is incredibly difficult for children. In the majority of cases, children do not disclose abuse immediately following an event.

In fact, many do not disclose abuse for years. Many adult survivors of abuse have never disclosed their abuse to anyone. Child sexual abuse survivors face many barriers that make disclosing abuse especially difficult. Below are some barriers to disclosure that children may face.

  • External factors such as threats made by the perpetrator, the lack of forensic proof that the abuse occurred, secrecy within the abusive relationship and pressure not to tell.
  • Internal psychological factors within the child such as taking responsibility for the abuse, fear of the perpetrator, shame, feelings of helplessness, fear that no one will believe their disclosure, love or loyalty for the perpetrator, for some children the touching felt good.
  • Developmental factors such as language development, understanding that the experience was abusive, inability to interpret the event.
  • Consequences of disclosure such as unbelieving and unsupportive family members (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins), family disruption, moving, fear of getting into trouble, loss of housing, loss of primary income. [13] [14].

Recanting an allegation of abuse is not rare and often affected by a child’s vulnerability to adult and family influences (extending beyond caregivers, i.e. grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins). In cases where collaborative evidence of physical and sexual abuse was present, children still recanted 25% of the time [15]. In all child abuse cases, it is estimated that children recant 22% of the time; of this, 90% reaffirm their abuse later in life [15].

For more information, please review “What To Do When a Child Discloses Abuse To You”


[1] Townsend, C. (2013). Prevalence and consequences of child sexual abuse compared with other childhood experiences. Charleston, S.C., Darkness to Light. Retrieved from
[2]Saunders, B. E., &Adams, Z. W. (2014). Epidemiology of Traumatic Experiences in Childhood. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 23(2), 167-184. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2013.12.003
[3] Lyon, T.D. (2009). Abuse disclosure: What adults can tell. Children as Victims, Witnesses, and Offenders: Psychological Science and the Law, ed. BL Bottoms, CJ Najdowski, GS Goodman, pp 19-35. New York: Guilford
[4] Child Help. (2014). Child Abuse Statistics. Retrieved from
[5] United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, Child Maltreatment 2010, (2011),
[6] Colorado Department of Human Services (2017) Welcome. retrieved from
[7] Snyder, H. N. (2000). Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: Victim, incident, and offender characteristics. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved January 12, 2009 from
[8] Ullman, S. E. (2007). Relationship to perpetrator, disclosure, social reactions, and PTSD symptoms in child sexual abuse survivors. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 16(1), 19-36
[9] Broman-Fulks, J. J., Ruggiero, K. J., Hanson, R. F., Smith, D. W., Resnick, H. S., Kilpatrick, D. G., & Saunders, B. E. (2007). Sexual assault disclosure in relation to adolescent mental health: Results from the National Survey of Adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 36, 260 — 266.
[10]Prevent Child Sexual Abuse: Facts about sexual abuse and how to prevent it.” Stop It Now! 2008.
[11]Leach, C., Powell, M. B., Sharman, S. J., & Anglim, J. (2016). The Relationship Between Children’ s Age and Disclosures of Sexual Abuse During Forensic Interviews. Child Maltreatment, 22(1), 79-88. doi:10.1177/1077559516675723
[12] Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse (n.d.). Child Sexual Abuse Statistics: The issue of Child Sexual Abuse. Retrieved from:
[13] McElvaney, R., Greene, S., & Hogan, D. (2012). How Children Tell: Containing the Secret of Child Sexual Abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1155-1175. doi:10.1177/0886260511424503
[14] Townsend, C. (2016). Child Sexual Abuse Disclosure: What Practitioners Need to Know. Charleston, S.C., Darkness to Light. Retrieved from
[15] Leach, C., Powell, M. B., Sharman, S. J., & Anglim, J. (2016). The Relationship Between Children’s Age and Disclosures of Sexual Abuse During Forensic Interviews. Child Maltreatment. doi:10.1177/1077559516675723