The findings show that sexual abuse is widespread and possibly worse than previously estimated. It found that one in three children have had some experience of some form of sexual abuse, which often persists throughout childhood as part of everyday life. Up to half of children and young people reporting violence experience repeated victimisation. One in ten children who have experienced sexual abuse by an adult known to them had this experience four or more times.
The data also shows that boys and girls are equally vulnerable to sexual abuse, although the forms might vary. This challenges current thinking, which usually focuses on the particular vulnerability of girls. Gender is important, but the motivations for violence towards children are not all gender-driven. Girls and boys are targets because they are vulnerable and dependent upon caregivers for survival and protection. The study points to a critical gap in current thinking that needs to be taken into account – the experiences of boys.
It's time we paid attention, it's time for children’s voices to be heard, it's time we say under no circumstances is violence against children justifiable. The good news is that we can do something about this. With sufficient commitment and investment, creative approaches to prevention can make a real difference. But we must support parents and caregivers struggling in poverty and against adversity. We must challenge cultures of masculinity that favour aggressive sexual behaviour over responsibility, care and respect. And yes it will take time. But it can be done through an approach that is grounded in local realities, is gender-sensitive, engages government, civil society and local communities, and, most importantly, is centered on children themselves.
When we hear about cases of sexual abuse we often ask how someone can do that to a child. What we should be asking is why is this being allowed to happen in the first place. So let's be the ones who say we will not accept sexual abuse, or any kind of child abuse. Let's be the ones to say we are not satisfied with the status quo. Let us be outraged, let's be outspoken, and together let's put an end to child abuse once and for all.