Children are by nature vulnerable to those more powerful than they are.
Sexual abuse does not occur because of a particular quality in the child, but solely because of traits or decisions made on the part of the person abusing. Yet, if we can understand why some children may be more likely to be vulnerable to sexual abuse we can take steps early on to provide extra protection for those children. Although the child is never the reason for the abuse, there are factors that lower a child’s defenses against abuse and make them less able to protect themselves or get the help they could need.
The factors below can increase risk for abuse and are not necessarily considered to be causes of child sexual abuse; sexual abuse can occur without any of these factors present. These traits are not predictors or indicators of sexual abuse, but rather aspects of a child’s life that can make them more vulnerable. When several of the factors below are true, a child may be less able to see a sexual violation as unacceptable, less able to find the resources to get protection, or perhaps even more willing to tolerate the sexual interaction in exchange for whatever it is they might be offered – protection, love, privileges, treats, friendship or money,
Risk factors in a child’s environment or household
- Settings where secrecy is frequently permitted or encouraged
- Significant stress in family (death, current divorce, or job loss)
- Children being viewed or talked about in adult sexual terms
- Exposure and/or easy access to adult pornography, X-rated media, or child pornography
- Witnessing situations where sex is exchanged for money, drugs, privileges or protection
- Instances of unacknowledged child sexual abuse in family history
- Alcohol abuse/misuse or illegal drug use in the home
- Domestic violence in the home
- Repeated exposure to other forms of violence
- Settings where there is little or no physical, emotional or sexual privacy
Risk factors in a child’s relationships
- Weak or absent ongoing connection to a trusted safe adult
- Child sees him/herself as not deserving protection or respect
- Child feels emotionally isolated or neglected
- Little or no accurate information available about what constitutes healthy touching or safe sexual feelings/behaviors
- Developmental challenge or disability in the child or other family members
- Child is expected to fill the emotional or intimate needs of adults
- Child is a victim of physical or emotional abuse
Your Help CenterPrivacy
- Recognizing Warning Signs
- Definitions of Child Sexual Abuse
- How Abuse Happens
- Understanding Sexual Behavior in Kids
- Warning Signs in Children and Adults
- Warning Signs of Abuse in Children (Behavorial and Physical)
- Signs an Adult May Be At-Risk to Harm a Child
- Behaviors to Watch Out for When Adults are with Children
- How Can I Tell if My Child Has Been Sexually Abused?
- Warning Signs a Young Person May Be a Target of Online Sexual Abuse
- Warning Signs of Someone's Dangerous or Illegal Online Activity
- Prevention and Safety
- Keys to Preventing Sexual Abuse of Children
- Creating a Plan for Safety
- Considering Filing Reports
- Talking about It
- Finding the Courage to Speak Up
- Speaking to Someone with a Sexual Behavior Problem
- When a Child Tells About Sexual Abuse
- How Should I Respond to the Child?
- What Should I Do After a Child Tells?
- How Can I Better Understand What My Child is Going Through?
- Possible Reactions of Non-Offending Parents and Caring Adults
- Is the Child Telling Me the Truth?
- What Might the Person Who Has Offended be Thinking or Feeling after a Disclosure?
- Recovery and Therapy
- For Children and Adults Who Have Been Abused
- For Those At-Risk to Abuse Others or Who Have Offended
- For Parents and Caregivers
- Reporting and Legal Issues
- Filing Reports
- Child Protective Services and Police
- Legal Issues