1 in 3 girls & 1 in 6 boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 18.
Child sexual abuse refers to any sexual misconduct that is committed against a child or adolescent by someone in a position of power or perceived authority. This could be an adult or another young person.
Sexual abuse includes manipulating, threatening, or forcing a child into any sexual activity, which might include sexualized touching or kissing, intercourse, or sex trafficking. However, not all sexual abuse involves physical touch. Behaviours such as exposure, using a child in the making of or viewing of pornography, and grooming are also abusive (learn more about grooming here).
Perpetrators of child sexual abuse are often very charming and tactical, and therefore can be very hard to identify by children or other adults. Adults that are close to a child are often groomed into trusting the perpetrator as well, which contributes to their ability to perpetrate violence. It is important to remember that sexual abuse is the fault of the perpetrator, and no one else.
Indicators & Impacts
The effects of sexual abuse vary from person to person. The process of healing from sexual abuse can take a long time, and it’s understandable to feel frustrated as a parent. Survivors of child sexual abuse and their family members may react in a wide variety of ways:
- Pain / STI’s
- Anger / Aggression
- Overly sensitive / moody
- Delays in development
- Loss of trust
- Fear of adults
- Fear of punishment
- Inability to regulate emotions and impulses
- Discomfort with affection
- Age-inappropriate sexuality
- Pain / STI’s
- Deficits in overall IQ
- Onset of learning disabilities
- Depression / Anxiety
- Fear of retribution
- Poor self-esteem
- Increased fear, self-blame, guilt, and shame
- Maladaptive social skills
- General stress / worry
- Increased protection
- Increased supervision / rules for all children in family
- More open / frequent conversations regarding sexuality / sexual issues
- Parents may experience impacts if they are survivors themselves
- Siblings may be impacted in various ways
Online child sexual exploitation is one of the most disturbing public safety issues facing society today. It continues to harm past and present generations of children in Canada and abroad.
Online child sexual exploitation includes:
- Child sexual abuse material – Actual, but also fictitious, written depictions of child sexual abuse, audio, video, and images (also known as child pornography);
- Self-generated materials and sexting – Youth-generated explicit images/videos on the Internet, which are often further distributed without consent;
- Sextortion – Use of coercion and threats to extort child sexual exploitation images/videos from youth (either by other youth or adult offenders);
- Grooming and luring – Use of applications and platforms to connect with children and youth for the purpose of sexually exploiting them;
- Live child sexual abuse streaming – Viewing of child sexual abuse in real-time, often involves the offender directing the abuse; and
- Made-to-order content – Ordering videos/images to suit offenders’ preferences.
A 2016 analysis of C3P’s Cybertip.ca reports (see more below) highlighted the serious prevalence of child sexual abuse material on the internet and the need for more to be done to identify the children portrayed in the images and videos, stop offenders, and reduce the availability and continued distribution of this content. This analysis was based on the review of close to 152,000 reports and examined 43,762 unique images and videos classified by Cybertip.ca as child sexual abuse material.
The harsh reality is 78% of the images and videos analyzed by Cybertip.ca depict children under 12, with the majority (63%) of those being under 8 years of age. In the analyzed images, as the age of the children decreases, the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation acts become more intrusive.
Tools for Empowering Children & Youth
- Surprises, not secrets: Perpetrators often use the language of “secrets” to manipulate children. By changing our language to “surprises”, we encourage children to never keep secrets from safe adults.
- Proper names of sexual body parts: avoiding proper terms like penis or vulva only makes children more vulnerable and less likely to tell. These words are only awkward if adults make them awkward.
- Map out a child’s safety network: name 3-5 adults the child feels are safe (not that YOU picked; it’s important to let the child select these people) along with their contact info and keep it somewhere handy to the child.
- Appropriate vs. inappropriate touches: teach children to trust that gut feeling when something feels bad / yucky / inappropriate, and refer them back to their safety network for a safe adult to talk to.
- Bodily boundaries: EVERYONE is allowed to have boundaries with their bodies, even children. Encourage family to ask consent for hugs & kisses, and teach kids the same!
Support is available.
Being educated on child sexual abuse is the best defense for this crime. Continue reading to learn about available supports to Canadian families.
Saskatoon Sexual Assault & Information Centre
Although we don’t offer counselling services to children under the age of 12, SSAIC is still here to support families and prevent child sexual abuse. Our biggest education and prevention initiative is our Grade 4 puppet show program “I’m the Boss of Me”. If you have young children in your life, ask them (or their teacher) if they’ve received “I’m the Boss of Me” in their Grade 4 classroom, and have a conversation about what they took away from that. Learn more about ITBOM here.
In addition, check out our two newest resources related to child sexual abuse and prevention below (both available in print form as well):
If a child you know is experiencing any kind of abuse, it is your duty to report that information to the Ministry of Social Services. Reports may be made without evidence; the intake worker will guide you through the questions and tell you what will happen next.
Canadian Center of Child Protection
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P) is a charitable organization dedicated to the personal safety of all children. The Centre’s goal is to reduce victimization by providing national programs and service to the Canadian public. Through the operation of Cybertip.ca (Canada’s tipline for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children), C3P has an expertise and unique window into child sexual abuse and how technology has impacted victimization.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, C3P has seen an increase in sextortion behaviours: children being manipulated or coerced into filming themselves in lewd situations, or being filmed without their knowledge for a sexual purpose. If your child has experienced online sexual victimization, check out this resource from C3P entitled “Online Child Sexual Victimization: Picking Up the Pieces”.
What can guardians do to stop online exploitation?
- First and foremost: have frequent conversations about online safety. This is not a one-and-done quick chat!
- Decide together on a safety plan should anything happen that does make them feel uncomfortable (hint: this does not have to be exclusively online safety; their safety plan should be universally applicable to any unsafe situation. Give this template a try).
- Help your children and tweens create their accounts with high privacy settings and set the expectation that you will be monitoring their accounts and internet usage.
- Talk to your child about what exactly the risks are. Explaining that screen grabbing is a common tactic, or that adults may pretend to be children online will also help children become aware of these practices.
- Encourage your child to share any “secrets” or “yucky feelings” with you or another safe adult without losing these privileges; that their safety is your highest priority.
- If you see or learn of anything suspicious happening online to your child or another, report it to Cybertip.ca right away.
C3P has a ton of great information and resources on their website for caregivers, educators, and child-serving organizations, including homeschooling tips, educational videos, and resources aimed at every age group.
Statistics Canada, 2016.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection website, 2021.