Child sexual abuse is a serious social problem that can have serious lifelong consequences. Although concern over the issue has ebbed and flowed, contemporary awareness of widespread sexual abuse of children dates back to the late 1970s. Victims of child sexual abuse vary greatly with respect to the effect these experiences have on them. Some victims do not suffer any immediate or long-term consequences, while others suffer a host of short- and long-term negative physical and mental-health problems, substance abuse, and possible revictimization later in life. Similar to rape and sexual assault, child sexual abuse is underreported, and many factors affect trial proceedings for cases that are prosecuted.
- • Not all child sexual abusers are pedophiles. Child sexual abuse is legally defined as engaging in inappropriate sexual acts with a child, whereas pedophilia is based on clinical diagnosis.
- • Most victims of childhood sexual abuse do not go on to become child molesters. However, sexual victimization as a child, if accompanied by other factors, such as the co-occurrence of other types of abuse, may contribute to a victim's later emergence as a child sexual-abuse offender.
- • Often, the successful investigation, prosecution, and conviction of guilty child sexual abusers depends on the child's testimony. It is estimated that a small minority of victimizations (10%-18%) is reported to officials.
- • Many factors may account for child sexual-abuse case dispositions. Behavioral evidence appears to be a better predictor of case outcome compared to medical/physical evidence.