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Global prevalence of child sexual abuse

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Childhood sexual abuse statistics (iStock)Childhood sexual abuse statistics (iStock)Childhood sexual abuse statistics (iStock)

The Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Justice have found that 11% of high school girls and 4% of high school boys report having been forced to have sex at some point. Moreover, research from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service has found that 1 in 15 U.S. adults report being forced to have sex during their lifetimes. Because of under-reporting and community codes of silence, however, this continues to be a particularly difficult area for researchers seeking conclusive figures.

To deal with the relative lack of consistent data, a 2009 metastudy from the University of Barcelona published in Clinical Psychology Review, “Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse in Community and Student Samples: A Meta-Analysis,” analyzed 65 research studies across 22 countries to estimate an “overall international figure” for such abuse.

The study’s findings include:

  • An estimated 7.9% of men and 19.7% of women globally experienced sexual abuse prior to the age of 18.
  • U.S. rates were 7.5% for males and 25.3% for females.
  • The highest prevalence rate of child sexual abuse geographically was found in Africa (34.4%.) Europe showed the lowest prevalence rate (9.2%). America and Asia had prevalence rates between 10.1% and 23.9%.
  • South Africa has the highest prevalence rates for both men (60.9%) and women (43.7%). Jordan presents the second-highest prevalence rate for men (27%), followed by Tanzania (25%). Rates between 10% and 20% are reported for males in Israel (15.7%), Spain (13.4%), Australia (13%) and Costa Rica (12.8%), while the remaining countries all have prevalence rates below 10%.
  • For women, seven countries reported prevelence rates above 20%: Australia (37.8%), Costa Rica (32.2%), Tanzania (31.0%), Israel (30.7%), Sweden (28.1%), the United States (25.3%) and Switzerland (24.2%).
  • The generally much-lower rate for males may be partially inaccurate; under-reporting may be particularly prevalent because of the “possibility of greater shame and the fear that they will be labeled as homosexual (if the aggressor was another man) or weak (if the aggressor was a woman), which may combine with the fact that they are more often accused of having provoked the abuse.”

The study’s authors note that “the studies all agree that child sexual abuse is a much more widespread problem than previously estimated … and even the lowest prevalence rates include a large number of victims who need to be taken into account…. Indeed, research confirms the importance of the problem among both men and women in all the countries studied.”

Tags: crime, children, youth, metastudy, sex crimes

    Writer: | Last updated: November 15, 2011

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    Analysis assignments

    Listen to the issue-related NPR segment "Teaching Kids about Sexual Abuse."

    1. What are some of the major issues and ambiguities that journalists may confront in reporting on issues relating to child sex abuse? What do the study and story suggest about further questions that society must address?

    Read the full Clinical Psychology Review study "Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse in Community and Student Samples: A Meta-Analysis."

    1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
    3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.