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Sexual Abuse Of Young Children

Sexual Abuse Of Young Children: Researching sexual abuse against children is complex, as it remains a taboo and difficult to disclose in many settings. Methodological challenges include, for example, varying definitions of what constitutes ‘abuse’ and ‘childhood’, and whether differences in age and/or power between victim and victimizer should be taken into account.

There are also ethical challenges to researching abuse among children. Despite these challenges, it is clear that childhood sexual abuse occurs in every country where it has been rigorously studied. A 2004 WHO review of research estimated the global prevalence of childhood sexual victimization to be about 27% among girls and around 14% among boys.

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More specifically, that review found that the average prevalence of reported childhood sexual abuse among females was around 7–8% in studies from South and Central America and the Caribbean, as well as from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Estimated prevalence was as high as 28% in parts of eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Asia–Pacific region and north Africa. In general, child sexual abuse was more common among girls than boys; however, recent studies from Asia have found boys to be as affected as girls.

In the WHO multi-country study, the reported prevalence of sexual abuse before the age of 15 years by someone other than an intimate partner, ranged from 1% in rural Bangladesh to over 21% in urban areas of Namibia. Despite the widespread nature of childhood sexual abuse, there have been few studies of the prevalence in certain regions until recently.

A number of new studies are currently under way in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2009, a nationally representative sample of 1242 girls and women, aged 13–24 years, in Swaziland, found that 33.2% of respondents reported an incident of sexual violence before they reached the age of 18 years.

In that study, the most common perpetrators of the first incident were men or boys from the respondent’s neighbourhood, boyfriends or husbands. The first incident most often took place in the respondent’s home, so included sexual violence by intimate partners and dating sexual violence.

A recent study compared the first national, population-based data available on child sexual abuse before the age of 15 years in three Central American countries. The prevalence ranged from 4.7% in Guatemala to 7.8% in Honduras and 6.4% in El Salvador, and the majority of reported cases first occurred before the age of 11 years.

Perpetrators were usually people known to the victims.

Sexual harassment and violence in schools and at work

Sexual violence, including sexual harassment, frequently occurs in institutions assumed to be ‘safe’, such as schools, where perpetrators include peers and teachers.

In studies from around the world, including Africa, south Asia, and Latin America, studies have documented that substantial proportions of girls report experiencing sexual harassment and abuse on the way to and from school, as well as on school and university premises, including classrooms lavatories and dormitories, by peers and by teachers.

For example, in a study among primary schools in the Machinga district of Malawi, primary school girls reported experiencing various types of sexual harassment and abuse at school, including sexual comments (7.8%), sexual touch (13.5%), ‘rape’ (2.3%), and ‘coerced or unwanted’ sex (1.3%).

That same study found that teachers at 32 out of 40 schools reported knowing a male teacher at their school who had propositioned a student for sexual intercourse; while teachers at 26 out of 40 schools reported that a male teacher at their school had got a student pregnant.

As an example from a high-income setting, a national representative (online) study of students in US middle and high schools found that out of 1002 female respondents, a majority of girls reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment at school during the 2010–2011 school year.

Research on sexual harassment in the workplace is in its infancy, but initial studies indicate that it is widespread, especially as more women enter the workforce. Surveys have found that 40–50% of women in the European Union report some form of sexual harassment or unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace.