Understanding Child Sexual Abuse Definitions and Statistics

CSA Blog

Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is understood to be a public health epidemic. The pervasive and often lifelong impact on victims ripples out into families, communities, the economy, etc. But unlike tracking a disease epidemic, there are no physical tests or conclusive symptoms when someone is suffering the effects of child abuse. This makes defining, studying, and ending child sexual abuse all the more difficult.

In recognizing these complexities, No More Stolen Childhoods set out to review the range of definitions and prevalence numbers in different studies and used by different leading agencies such as the CDC, WHO, and CSA prevention-specific organizations such as Darkness to Light. In order to raise awareness, prevent abuse, and support healing most effectively, it’s essential to start from the best available science.

After delving into the data, critiques, and caveats, No More Stolen Childhoods chose to adopt the definition of Child Sexual Abuse that is used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“Child sexual abuse refers to the involvement of a child (person less than 18 years old) in sexual activity that violates the laws or social taboos of society and that he/she does not fully comprehend, does not consent to or is unable to give informed consent to, or is not developmentally prepared for and cannot give consent to.”

Secondly, we set out to adopt a basic prevalence stat to inform our work. To that end, and aligning with State partners, NMSC chose to adopt the recently updated statistics released from ChildUSAdvocacy, a leading voice in the legislative efforts to end child abuse and neglect:

“1 in 5 girls and 1 in 13 boys (roughly 20% and 8%) are likely to experience CSA.”

Unfortunately, this number is likely a conservative estimate of the prevalence of CSA, due to so many complicating factors.

One of the barriers to ending Child Sexual Abuse is the reluctance of many to engage with the topic at all. Learning the facts about CSA can feel overwhelming, but actually empowers us to be informed, take appropriate action, and make huge differences in the lives of children and adult survivors.


Click here to read the full position paper: “Understanding Child Sexual Abuse Definitions and Data.”

Click to here to learn about and register for our upcoming Stewards of Children training sessions, offering 5 essential steps to protecting children.