Sexual Violence Against Children

Sexual violence against children is widespread. It’s also preventable.

The data is clear: Sexual violence affects girls and boys in every country around the world. Learn more about the issue of sexual violence against children, and check out solutions to prevent it from happening in our new resource, “What Works to Prevent Violence Against Children.”

Understanding Sexual Violence Against Children

Sexual violence against children, which includes anyone under the age of 18, occurs in countries at all levels of development and affects children of all ages. Sexual violence consists of a range of sexual acts against a child, including, but not limited to, child sexual abuse, incest, rape, sexual violence in the context of dating/intimate relationships, sexual exploitation, online sexual abuse, and non-contact sexual abuse.

 

Child sexual abuse also includes acts that do not involve actual physical coercion or threat, but that can be perpetrated through the use of flattery, bribes, allegiance, status, authority, and misrepresentation of social norms. In some instances, the recipient may not even be aware of their own victimization.

There has been much debate about the causes of violence against children and a growing understanding that no single factor can explain why it happens. In the area of violence prevention, the social-ecological framework is widely used to understand the complex interactions of vulnerabilities and protective factors that contribute to the risk of both experiencing and becoming a perpetrator of violence, including the individual child, families and interpersonal relationships, communities, and the wider societal and political contexts.

 

Understanding these risks and protective factors at various levels can help identify opportunities for prevention. For this review, we chose to adopt a social-ecological framework, adapted specifically for childhood sexual violence — taking into account various dimensions from the individual to the societal context — as an effective way to understand both the problem and effective solutions.

Sexual Violence Impacts Children Around the World

All children can be the target of sexual violence, and data suggests that girls are generally at higher risk for it. Global estimates show that 120 million (or one in 10) girls under the age of 20 have experienced some form of forced sexual contact.

 

All below data among 18- to 24-year-olds, from the VACS, led by CDC as part of the TfG partnership.