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What is child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse covers a range of illegal sexual activities, including:

  • possessing images of child sexual abuse

  • forcing a child to strip or masturbate

  • engaging in any kind of sexual activity in front of a child, including watching pornography

  • taking, downloading, viewing or distributing sexual images of children

  • encouraging a child to perform sexual acts in front of a webcam

  • not taking measures to protect a child from witnessing sexual activity or images

  • inappropriate sexual touching of a child, whether clothed or unclothed

  • penetrative sex

Both boys and girls can be victims of sexual abuse, but girls are more likely to be abused.

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Consequences of Child Sexual Abuse 

Experiencing child sexual abuse is an adverse childhood experience that can affect how a person thinks, acts, and feels over a lifetime, resulting in short- and long-term physical and mental/emotional health consequences.
Physical health consequences include:

  • sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

  • physical injuries

  • chronic conditions later in life, such as heart disease, obesity, and cancer


Mental health consequences include:

  • depression

  • posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms


Behavioral consequences include:

  • substance use/misuse including opioid misuse

  • risky sexual behaviors, meaning behaviors that could result in pregnancy or STIs such as not using condoms or other contraceptives, or sex with multiple partners

  • increased risk for suicide or suicide attempts

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