Child sexual abuse: Get the facts
This fact sheet provides information and statistics to learn more about child sexual abuse. It helps to dispel common myths and misconceptions, and help people understand the role they can play in protecting children and young people.
What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse is any act that exposes a child or young person to, or involves a child or young person in, sexual activities that:
- they do not understand
- they do not or cannot consent to
- are not accepted by the community
- are unlawful.1
Child sexual abuse is preventable
All children have the right to be safe from sexual abuse. There are things we can all do to create safe environments for children and young people and prevent abuse before it occurs.
Protecting children is every adult's responsibility
You have a responsibility to protect children and young people. Children should not be responsible for their own protection. Start by understanding child sexual abuse, learning how to identify risks and protective factors and knowing what to do if a child or young person is, or is at risk of, being sexually abused.
Around 1 in 4 (28.5%) Australians have experienced child sexual abuse
Of these Australians, 78% experienced child sexual abuse multiple times.2
Not all perpetrators are the same
There is no typical profile of a person who sexually abuses children and young people. Not all perpetrators have the same traits, behaviours and motivations. Often the only thing that makes them stand out from the general population is their criminal behaviour.3
Child sexual abuse can happen anywhere
Child sexual abuse can occur within families, by other people the child or young person knows or does not know, in organisations and online. Most often though, child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows.4
Child sexual abuse has profound impacts on victims and survivors and society as a whole
Child sexual abuse can have profound, long-term impacts across all aspects of a person's life, including their health, education, employment and relationships. Australians who experience childhood maltreatment, including child sexual abuse, are substantially more likely to have a mental health disorder, engage in health risk behaviours and use more health services than those who have not experienced maltreatment.5
Children and young people communicate about abuse in different ways
Only a small number of children and young people will tell someone directly that something is making them uncomfortable, or they have been sexually abused. It is more common for children and young people to tell people indirectly. One of the ways that we can help keep children and young people safe is by understanding how they may behave, talk or change if they have experienced or are at risk of abuse.
Child sexual abuse is never a child's fault
No matter what happened or how it happened. People who sexually abuse children are solely and fully responsible for their actions.
It takes immense courage for victims and survivors to disclose or report child sexual abuse
It can take years, even decades, for victims and survivors to tell someone about their abuse, and some never do. Victims and survivors face significant challenges disclosing or reporting child sexual abuse, including institutional and social barriers. Everyone has a responsibility to make sure victims and survivors are believed, protected and supported.
There are a range of protective factors that can keep children and young people safe
Protective factors can lower the risk of child sexual abuse. Examples include access to trusted adults and peers, understanding of personal safety including body boundaries, and strong community or cultural connections.6
Talking about child sexual abuse can be difficult, but conversations are important
It's normal to be nervous about having conversations. Conversations can be easy and age-appropriate, and they can make a real difference. You don't have to be an expert in the topic. Talking about the things that will keep them safe from harm will only have positive impacts for children and young people.
Help is available if you or someone you know has experienced, are experiencing, or are concerned a child or young person may be at risk of harm including child sexual abuse. If you need assistance or support, our Get support page provides a list of dedicated services. If you need information or resources for reporting child safety concerns, please visit our Make a report page.
1 National Strategy
2 Mathews B, Pacella RE, Scott JG, et al 2023, The prevalence of child maltreatment in Australia: findings from a national survey, The Medical Journal of Australia, 218.
3 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2017, Final Report: Making institutions child safe – Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Volume 6, page 46; Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2017, Final Report: Nature and cause – Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Volume 2, page 94
4 Mathews B, Pacella RE, Scott JG, et al 2023, The prevalence of child maltreatment in Australia: findings from a national survey, The Medical Journal of Australia, 218.
5 Scott, JG, et al. (2023). The association between child maltreatment and mental disorders in the Australian Child Maltreatment Study. Med J Aust. 218 (6).
6 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2017, Final Report: Nature and cause – Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Volume 2, page 17–18.