Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center

Juveniles and Sexual Abuse

Juveniles and Sexual AbuseSexual abuse of a child by a parent or caregiver is considered the most devastating and egregious form of child abuse and is treated very seriously by courts and by child protective services agencies nationwide. Childhood sexual abuse typically causes lifelong trauma in its victims who can suffer long-term physical, psychological and emotional damage. Parents or caretakers who are believed to have committed sexual abuse against children will often be criminally prosecuted with felony-level offenses and will face investigations and possible removal actions from child protective services agencies.

What is Childhood Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse of a child is a category of abuse involving sexual activity with a minor. This is not limited to sexual intercourse and can include exposing oneself to a child, fondling or inappropriate touching, using a child to produce pornography or using a child for prostitution, obscene phone calls, text messages or online communications and many other forms of inappropriate conduct. Studies have shown that 93 percent of the victims of childhood sexual abuse know their abuser and in many cases, the abuse is performed by a parent, caregiver or another family member.

How is Sexual Abuse of a Child Detected?

In many cases, childhood sexual abuse is detected when a child reports abuse to a teacher, doctor, school counselor or another mandatory reporter. The mandatory reporter is then required to alert law enforcement. In these situations, a criminal investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse will be initiated as well as an investigation conducted by child protective services. This may ultimately result in the arrest of the accused perpetrator of the sexual abuse and the removal of the child from the home. In other cases, medical staff may notice physical signs of sexual abuse and may make a report.

There may not always be physical signs of childhood sexual abuse and sometimes the allegations may only be based on the account of the minor. In some cases, children are coached or pressured into making false allegations of sexual abuse against a parent or caretaker. This sometimes occurs in bitter divorce disputes where one parent encourages a false sexual abuse report to gain custody of a child and to harm their former partner.

Effects of Sexual Abuse Allegations

Police agencies nationwide treat allegations of childhood sexual abuse very seriously. In many cases, the parent or caregiver suspected of the sexual abuse will be arrested and will be charged with felony-level offenses following an official investigation. The defendant will typically be ordered to stay away from all children, including the victim, while the criminal case is pending.

Those convicted of criminal sexual abuse can face lengthy prison sentences. The offender would likely be required to register as a sex offender following his or her conviction for a childhood sexual abuse offense. In some states, including California, this registration requirement is permanent and the defendant would be required to register for life.

In addition, state child protective services agencies will intervene and investigate whenever there is an allegation of child sexual abuse made against a parent or caregiver. The child may be removed from the home while the investigation is pending and may be placed with other family members or with a foster care if no family members are available or willing to provide care. The agency can recommend that the child be permanently removed from the home if the allegations are found to be valid.

Consequences of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Children who suffer sexual abuse can face lifelong consequences as a result. Childhood sexual abuse has been linked with mental health disorders such as borderline personality disorder, anxiety, and depression. Studies have shown that children who suffer from sexual abuse have greater difficulty as adults forming relationships and may be more likely to engage in sexual risk-taking and other dangerous conduct. Research has shown that the victims of childhood sexual trauma are at an increased risk of being rape victims as adults.