The peak age of vulnerability for sexual abuse is between seven and 13, but about 20% of cases involve even younger children. . .
About half the victimization of girls occurs within the family. For boys only 10% to 20% occurs in the family. . .
We also see a few cases of young children, themselves 5 through 10 years old, who victimize their peers. In most instances, these are victims of sexual abuse, who are repeating against others the acts hat have been perpetrated on them . . .
Female perpetrators are rare, but of some clinical interest, so they constitute a fourth group of importance. They are a diverse group that include some very isolated mothers, some adolescent girls under pressure to acquire sexual experience, and some women manipulated into joining the abusive activities of their boyfriend. . .
Interestingly, social and economic deprivation are not primary risk factors. Sexual abuse of children appears to be much less concentrated among children of disadvantaged social classes than other forms of child maltreatment. But sexual abuse in higher social classes is often overlooked because professionals assume it is rare. . .
The most important thing that psychologists, therapists and educators can do is to improve their ability to identify sexual abuse. But because of the shame, fear , and secrecy, most sexual abuse is still not diagnosed. When it is diagnosed, most often (two-thirds of the time) it is as a result of the explicit disclosure by a child. The child will mention the abuse to a parent, relative, friend, physician or school official, or the child will ask questions, mention activities or have sexual knowledge that will clearly signal the child’ s involvement. . .
There are certain behaviors that more than others can signal the presence of sexual abuse, but they are not specific to it. The primary one of these is sexualized behavior. . . In older children, it can mean promiscuous sexual behavior or unusually eroticized ways of dressing and acting. . .
As I said before, perpetrators are sometimes very unlikely individuals, with good reputations and a seemingly positive relationship with the suspected victim. The professional may find the accused person very likable and charming. Having a positive relationship with the child is not at all inconsistent with the possibility of sexual abuse.
*In the book, Childhood and Trauma, 1997, 1999. David Finkelhor is a Professor of Sociology and Director of the Family Research Laboratory and the Family Violence Research Program at the University of New Hampshire, USA.