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Child sexual abuse

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Child sexual abuse is commonly defined in contemporary western culture as any sexual activity an adult performs on or with a person under the local age of consent. The word "abuse" in this terminology refers to the assertion that all such sexual activity is inherently harmful or abusive, although many in favour of the abolition of age of consent laws dispute the assumption of harm. A perpetrator of child sexual abuse is known as a child sex offender if convicted. Child sexual abuse is a crime in most countries.

The term includes also the Commercial sexual exploitation of children, defined by the International Labour Organization in the text of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999.


Child Sexual Abuse: Legal definition (U.S.)

In every state and federal jurisdiction of the United States, the law states that a minor below the age of consent in that state or jurisdiction cannot consent to sexual activity of any sort involving a partner (with certain exceptions). Such sexual activity is legally considered child abuse. However, state laws treat an adult who performs sexual activity with a minor under the age of consent differently from two minors under the age of consent who perform sexual activity with each other. Also, if the minor in question is a preadolescent child then it is generally treated differently then sexual activities with an adolescent under the age of consent. Sexual activities between an adult and an adolescent minor under the age of consent are generally covered under statutory rape laws. Illegal sexual activities involving an adult and a minor are generally categorized as a sex offense. Depending on the penal code of the jurisdiction in which the crime occurs, the specific charges against the adult may include, for example, rape/sexual assault, sexual abuse of a child, or lewd acts.

Situations in which both participants are under the age of consent are generally not prosecuted, if neither minor used force or coercion on the other minor. [citation needed] In addition, many states include in their penal code a so-called "Romeo exception". This exception deals with situations in which a young adult above the age of consent performs a sexual activity with a someone under the age of consent; it exempts the young adult from being charged with a sex offense if the adult's age is within three years of the minor's age, and the adult did not use force or coercion on the minor. [citation needed] Another exemption under states sexual abuse laws that exists in some states applies to adults legally married to minors. Thus, said adults can legally have sexual relations with their spouses without violating the law.

Penalties (U.S.)

Penalties for child sexual abuse crimes vary from state to state. The specific crimes for which the child sex offender has been convicted determine the sentence the offender will serve. Examples of criminal penalties include imprisonment, as well as post-release conditions, such as parole supervision and registration as a sex offender. The trend has been towards progressively longer prison sentences, especially for long-term or repeat offenders.

The victim can also sue the offender in civil court for the injuries the victim suffered. A civil lawsuit can result in additional penalties for the offender, such as the payment of monetary damages to the victim.

Offenders may be subject to penalties outside the court system. The 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (H.R.4472) authorizes the indefinite involuntary commitment of "sexually dangerous persons" whom the State determines are "dangerous to others because of a mental illness, abnormality, or disorder that creates a risk that the individual will engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation." A "sexually dangerous person" is defined as a "a person who has engaged or attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation and who is sexually dangerous to others."[1]

Prohibited Activities

The activities identified as sexual abuse of a child varies between countries. In the United States, sexual activity of any kind is prohibited between an adult and a person under the age of consent.[citation needed] Examples of prohibited activities:

  • sexual intercourse (oral, anal or vaginal) with any person under the age of consent, which is between 16 and 18 years in the U.S.,
  • soliciting sexual activity from a child,
  • contact with a child's genitals for the purpose of sexual gratification,
  • inducing a child to touch his/her genitals or another's genitals,
  • acting as a pimp for prostituted child
  • inducing a child to behave sexually in a performance, or to watch any kind of sexual behavior,
  • inducing a child to appear in child pornography,
  • lewd acts with children, including disseminating pornography to a minor.

Effects of sexual abuse on children

Many experts believe that CSA is innately harmful to minors.[citation needed] A wide range of psychological, emotional, physical, and social effects has been attributed to child sexual abuse, including anxiety, depression, obsession, compulsion, grief, post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms such as flashbacks, emotional numbing, pseudo-maturity symptoms, and other more general dysfunctions such as sexual dysfunction, social dysfunction, dysfunction of relationships, poor education and employment records, eating disorders, self-mutilation, and a range of physical symptoms common to some other forms of PTSD, such as sensual numbness, and loss of appetite (see Smith et al., 1995). Additionally, young females who are victims of abuse may encounter additional trauma by pregnancy and birth complications. Some studies have shown that much of the negative effect associated with CSA is caused by the negative family environment that is often also present for children who are abused. (Rind et al. 1998) Those studies also suggested that the negative effects of CSA were smaller and that some groups of children were not negatively affected by being abused.

Wakefield and Underwager (1991) note the difference between CSA experiences of males and females, where more males than females report the experience as neutral or positive, saying that "It may be that women perceive such experiences as sexual violation, while men perceive them as sexual initiation." Rind et al.(1998) showed that this difference was present in 59 college studies on the issue, showing that males who claimed that their abuse was consensual were not significantly less well adjusted than the norm. Draucker (1992) contested these finding, arguing that sexual abuse against both boys and girls had similar effects, and that "initiation" was part of the myth that males are always the initiators of sex and cannot be abused.

More recent studies indicate that sexual or physical abuse in children can lead to the overexitation of an undeveloped limbic system[1]. This could explain the problems sexual abuse victims have with regulation of mood and other limbic functions, especially as exhibited in borderline personality disorder. Other studies also indicate sexual abuse can lead to temporal lobe epilepsy, damage to the cerebellar vermis, along with reduced size of the corpus callosum. [2]


Offenders are more likely to be relatives or acquaintances of their victim than strangers.[2] Most reported offenders are male; the percentage of incidents of sexual abuse by female perpetrators is usually reported to be between 5%[3] and 20%[citation needed], though some studies have found it to be much higher.[citation needed]


Typologies for child sex offenders have been used since the 1970s. Offenders are typically classified by their motivation, which is usually assessed by reviewing their offense's characteristics. Phallometric tests may also be used to determine the abuser's level of pedophilic interest.[4] Groth et al. proposed a simple, dichotomous system in 1982 which classed offenders as either "regressed" or "fixated."[5]

There are three categorizations of sex offenders against minors studied in the field of criminal psychology. The first two are major while the third is minor.

Regressed offenders

Regressed offenders are primarily attracted to their own age group but are passively aroused by minors (pseudo-pedophiles and pseudo-ephebophiles).

  • The sexual attraction in minors is not manifested until adulthood.
  • Their sexual conduct until adulthood is aligned with that of their own age group.
  • Their interest in minors is either not cognitively realized until well into adulthood or it was recognized early on and simply suppressed due to social taboo.

Other scenarios may include:

  • Not associating their attractions as pedosexual or ephebosexual in nature due to cultural differences.
  • Age of consent laws were raised in their jurisdiction but mainstream views toward sex with that age group remained the same, were acted upon, then they were charged with a crime.
  • The person's passive interest in children is manifested temporarily upon the consumption of alcohol and acted upon while inhibitions were low.

Some view regressed offenders as people who are unable to maintain adult sexual relationships and so the offender substitutes an adult with a minor. This appears to be a flawed concept since it would suggest the offender was primarily pedosexual/ephebosexual and they would thus fit into the fixated category.

Fixated offenders

Fixated offenders are most often adult pedophiles who are maladaptive to accepted social norms. They develop compatibility and self-esteem issues, stunting their social growth. [citation needed]

"This offender identifies with children, in other words considers him or herself to be like a child and thus seeks sexual relationships with what the offender perceives to be other children".[3]

Such offenders often resort to collecting personal articles related to minors (clothing, children's books) as an outlet for their repressed desires. The sexual acts are typically preconceived and are not alcohol or drug related.

Sadistic offenders

Sadistic offenders are very rare and inherently violent criminals. They primarily use sexuality as a tool of sadistic suppression and not for sexual satisfaction. For this reason they do not fit within the classification of pedophilia.


The great majority of offenders fit into the regressed category. Only between 2-10% percent of all offenders are fixated.[citation needed]

These categories, (primarily the first two), are based on the assumption that the offender suffers from an irreversible mental illness. A few have noted that the primary division between "regressed" or "fixated" offenders seems to rest on two criteria: the offending person's ability to successfully live a socially acceptable lifestyle before committing the crime and the person's primary sexual preference. [citation needed] These categorizations also assume the act is a crime in the jurisdiction they reside in.

These terms generally do not encompass the full range of possible scenarios and merely attempt to label easily identifiable situations. A growing number of minor-attracted adults feel that the two main classifications are a direct result from the lack of understanding and/or bias in the mainstream regarding intergenerational sexual attraction in western society and thus are categorically flawed.[citation needed]

"Children who molest"

Some therapists noticed that many adult sex offenders already showed what they considered deviant sexual behavior during childhood. So they promoted early treatment of deviant minors as a preventive measure. However there is still little known about normal as opposed to deviant child sexuality. It is also unknown whether so called deviant minors have a higher risk of becoming an adult sex offenders than anybody else.

The US started to focus on juvenile sex offenders or even children for therapy or detention in the early 1990s. The label "juvenile sex offender" is controversial because it is not only used to describe acts of violence, but also consensual acts that violate statutory rape laws; critics of this trend view many such children as simply engaging in sexual experimentation. They also criticize the law for forcing arbitrary classification of such pairs of offenders into victim and perpetrator.

Therapies used on children have included controversial methods historically used in the "treatment" of homosexuals such as aversion therapy, where minors are, for example, forced to smell ammonia while looking at nude pictures or to listen to audio tapes describing sexual situations. In order to measure sexual response, devices like penile plethysmographs and vaginal photoplethysmographs are sometimes used on these minors.

Variation in cultural practices, norms and research findings

Between cultural relativists and cultural universalists there is no consensus whether and which among different past or present cultural practices in Western or non-Western societies can be defined as abusing either general universalistic human rights or special universalistic rights of minors due to which there is no generally accepted definition which of them can be listed as CSA.

In different cultures the practices sanctioned by cultural norms involve for example cutting and bleeding of the genitals, female circumcision, circumcision (of males), castration, infibulation, sexual relationships between adolescent boys and adult men sanctioned by the state and sanctified by religion in ancient Greece. In Japan, sexual relationship between adolescent boys and adult monks in feudal Japan were tolerated, if not encouraged. Again child prostitution is somewhat tolerated in abjectively poor societies as a way for children to support their families. Remedies against masturbation (once named 'self-abuse'), ritual fellation by youths (found in some Oceanic cultures [4] [5] [6]), etc.

Green (2002) notes that sexual interactions between adults and children were commonplace and accepted in a variety of archaic cultures, including that of the Siwans, Arrernte aborigines, Hawaiians, and Polynesians.[6]


Goldman (2000) notes that "the absolute number of children being sexually abused each year has been almost impossible to ascertain" and that "there does not seem to be agreement on the rate of children being sexually abused". A meta-analytic study by Rind, Tromovitch, and Bauserman (1998) found that reported prevalence of abuse for males ranged from 3% to 37%, and for females from 8% to 71% with mean rates of 17% and 28% respectively. A study by Fromuth and Burkhart (1987) found that depending upon the definition of CSA used, prevalence among men varied from 4% to 24%.


  1. ^ Jimmy Ryce Civil commitment program, Children's Safety and Violent Crime Reduction Act of 2006, H.R. 4472.
  2. ^ Fergusson, D. M., Lynskey, M. T., and Horwood L. J. (1996). "Childhood sexual abuse and psychiatric disorder in young adulthood: I. Prevalence of sexual abuse and factors associated with sexual abuse." In the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35(10), 1355-64.
  3. ^ Grubin, Don (1998) "Sex offending against children: understanding the risk," Home Office. ISBN 184082204X.
  4. ^ Terry, Karen J., and Tallon, Jennifer. "Child Sexual Abuse: A Review of the Literature."
  5. ^ Groth, A.N., Hobson, W.F. and Gary, T.S. (1982). "The child molester: clinical observations." In Journal of Social Work and Child Sexual Abuse, 1(1/2), 129-144.
  6. ^ Green, Richard (2002). "Is pedophilia a mental disorder?", Archives of Sexual Behavior. 31 (6). 467-471.
  • Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect "American Academy of Pediatrics: Guidelines for the Evaluation of Sexual Abuse of Children: Subject Review" Pediatrics 103 (1) January 1999, pp. 186-191
  • Draucker, Claire. Counselling Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. SAGE Publications 1992 ISBN 0803985711
  • Herdt, Gilbert H. (ed.) "Fetish and fantasy in Sambia initiation". In Rituals of Manhood: Male Initiation in Papua New Guinea. Pp. 44-98. Berkeley: University of California Press 1982. ISBN 0520044487
  • Smith D., Pearce L., Pringle M., Caplan R., "Adults with a history of child sexual abuse: evaluation of a pilot therapy service" BMJ 1995;310:1175-1178
  • Kisiel, C. L. and Lyons, J. S., "Dissociation as a Mediator of Psychopathology Among Sexually Abused Children and Adolescents" Am. J. of Psychiatry 158:1034-1039, July 2001
  • Underwager, Ralph and Wakefield, Hollida, "Antisexuality and Child Sexual Abuse" IPT Volume 5 - 1993
  • Rind, Bruce and Tromovitch, Philip and Bauserman, Robert "A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples"
  • Eric Vern L. Bullough and Bonnie Bullough, "Problems of Research into Adult/Child Sexual Interaction" IPT Volume 8 - 1996
  • Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions (). Edited by Feierman JR. New York, Springer-Verlag, 1990
  • Juliette D. G. Goldman and Usha, K. Padayachi, "Some Methodological Problems in Estimating Incidence and Prevalence in Child Sexual Abuse Research". Journal of Sex Research, Nov, 2000 [7]
  • Fromuth, M.E. and Burkhart, B.R., "Childhood sexual victimization among college men: definitional and methodological issues". Violence and Victims 1987; 2:241-253

External links

Mass media articles

  • Zarocostas, John, U.N. Policy on Sex Abuse Criticized, The Washington Times, Jan 26, 2005
  • Lobdell, William, Missionary's Dark Legacy; Two remote Alaska villages are still reeling from a Catholic volunteer's sojourn three decades ago, when he allegedly molested nearly every Eskimo boy in the parishes. The accusers, now men, are scarred emotionally and struggle to cope. They are seeking justice., Los Angeles Times, Nov 19, 2005, p. A.1.
  • Teri Hatcher's Desperate Hour, Vanity Fair, Apr 2006

See also

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