“The victim is harmed not just by the cruelty of the oppressor,
but by the silence of the bystander.”
– Elie Wiesel

Child Abuse Affects Everyone

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.

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 these children are under the age of 4. Within this age bracket, children are the most vulnerable in their first year of life [5].

The Facts

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 experiance 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], some never disclose their abuse [9].

Over 90% of abuse perpetrators are known to the victim and in a position of trust [10]. These are neighbors, friends, family members, teachers, coaches, and other children.

Fewer then 20% of child sexual abuse reports to police result in conviction: the majority of cases are discontinued during the police investigation [11].

For information on Colorado-specific data:

Community Performance Center
Data Matters
Colorado Department of Human Services

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 offender gradually draws a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy. At the same time, the offender may also fill roles within the victim’s family that make 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 the trust. They use their status within the family and the community to manipulate the child to keep the secret of abuse.

Stages of the Grooming Process:

  1. Choosing the child – The offender targets a child by identifying their vulnerabilities, emotional needs, level of isolation, self-confidence, relationship with family members, and their ability to keep a secret.
  2. Research the child’s interests – By getting to know the child’s needs and how to fill them, the perpetrator gains the child’s trust and situates themselves in a position of importance in the child’s life.
  3. Gaining access – As the perpetrator builds a relationship with the child and the family they are able to create situations where they are alone with the child. The isolation furthers the special connection between the perpetrator and the child.
  4. Seduce the parents – Just as the perpetrator gains the trust of the child, they will gain the trust of a parent or caregiver as well. A perpetrator may touch a child in a parent or caregiver’s presence to show the child that nothing wrong is occurring and that touch is a part of the relationship. A perpetrator may also manipulate a parent or caregiver to doubt what a child is saying or mistrust a child’s actions.
  5. Fill the child’s needs – As the perpetrator fills the child’s needs they may assume more importance in the child’s life and may even become idealized by the child.
  6. Creating secrecy – The perpetrator will reinforce the special relationship with the child by creating secrecy around it. Often perpetrators will test the child by asking them to keep a secret that can easily be explained away if the child were to tell a parent or family member. Once the child maintains the secret the perpetrator increases the secrecy around the relationship.
  7. Lower sexual inhibitions of the child – Once the perpetrator has the emotional dependence of the child and their trust, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship. They start small and desensitize the child. Slowly sexual acts become more and more intrusive.
  8. Maintaining Control – Once the abuse is occurring, the perpetrator uses secrecy and blame to maintain the child’s continued participation and silence in the abuse. [13] [14]

Disclosing 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, grandparent, aunts, uncles, cousins), family disruption, moving, fear of getting into trouble, loss of housing, loss of primary income. [15] [16]

Recanting an allegation of abuse is not rare and is 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 abuse later in life. [17]

Consequences of Child Sexual Abuse

Child abuse has lifelong consequences and implications. Below is a TED Talk by Nadine Burke Harris, explaining that childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect, and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. An impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.

How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime – Nadine Burke Harris


[1] Townsend, C. (2013). Prevalence and consequences of child sexual abuse compared with other childhood experiences. Charleston, S.C., Darkness to Light. Retrieved from www.D2L.org.
[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 https://www.childhelp.org/child-abuse-statistics/
[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), www.acf.hhs.gov
[6] Colorado Department of Human Services (2017) Welcome. retrieved from http://www.cdhsdatamatters.org/welcome.html
[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 http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/saycrle.pdf
[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. http://www.stopitnow.org/sites/default/files/documents/files/prevent_child_sexual_abuse.pdf
[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: https://www.d2l.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/all_statistics_20150619.pdf
[13]Lanning, K. L. (2005).Compliant child victims: Confronting an uncomfortable reality. In Quayle, E & Taylor, M (Eds.), Viewing child pornography on the Internet: Understanding the offense, managing the offender, helping victims. Lyme Regis: Russell House Publishing.
[14] The National Center for Victims of Crime (n.d.). Grooming Dynamic. Retrieved December 28, 2017, from http://victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/grooming-dynamic-of-csa
[15] 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
[16] Townsend, C. (2016). Child Sexual Abuse Disclosure: What Practitioners Need to Know. Charleston, S.C., Darkness to Light. Retrieved from www.D@L.org
[17] 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