Child sexual abuse is global problem. A number of reviews and meta-analyses have been undertaken on child abuse victimisation, and have found lifetime prevalence rates ranging from 7–36% for women and 3–29% for men.50–52 The WHO MCS found that between 1 and 21% of women interviewed reported child sexual abuse before the age of 15 years. In most cases, the perpetrator was a male family member other than the father or stepfather. The IMAGES study found rates of child sexual abuse against boys ranged, for example, from between 3% in Croatia, 8% in Chile, to 17% in Rwanda and 21% in India. Other data on the history of child sexual abuse (including both forced sexual intercourse and other sex act including such as unwanted touch) reported by adult women sourced from large Reproductive Health national surveys from Latin America and the Caribbean, found prevalence rates among women from 5.8% in El Salvador, 4.0% in Nicaragua, 2.9% in Ecuador, and 2.6% in Paraguay. Population-based data on the prevalence of child sexual abuse perpetration are completely lacking.
National surveys undertaken in developing countries have found high rates of child sexual abuse. Research from Bangladesh found a high proportion of men interviewed reported experiencing some form of sexual abuse during childhood (37% of urban man and 22% of rural). Other recent large studies on child abuse have been undertaken in Swaziland (girls only) and Tanzania. The Tanzanian study found that nearly three out of every 10 girls and three out of every 20 boys reported having experienced sexual abuse. The study in Swaziland found that about one in three girls had experienced some form of sexual violence before the age of 18 years. Most perpetrators (75%) were men and boys from the victims’ communities. In Switzerland, as survey of more than 6500 school children found that 22% of girls and 8% of boys reported ever having experienced sexual assault at least once in their lives, but only 3–5% of them said they had reported the abuse.56 Data from the US-based Adverse Childhood Experiences study found that 24.7% of girls and 16.0% of boys had experienced sexual abuse during their childhood.
Estimates for child sexual abuse vary greatly between studies. As with other types of sexual violence, variations in prevalence may be explained by differing methods and definitions used. Memory of the abuse may be repressed and thus prevent disclosure or uncertainty about what ‘really happened’. Much of the research has been conducted with adults asking about childhood experiences, and this increases the likelihood of recall bias. If children are interviewed, comparability is hindered by the age structure of the population (i.e. it is not possible to calculate the proportion of children ‘ever’ abused). Similarly, if adults are interviewed a past year prevalence of child sexual abuse cannot be calculated. The estimates cited by research need to be interpreted with these limitations in mind.
Ugh. I wasn’t alone. The study is worth the read.