Research shows that one in 10 children will be the victim of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday.

This is one of the most staggering statistics we have regarding the impact of child sexual abuse, and is different than the widely accepted “1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys.” We are often asked, “Why are you using a different statistic?” Let’s take a look at the answer to that and other frequently asked questions regarding 1 in 10.

I read that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused. What changed?

The 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys statistic came from a study published by the Centers for Disease Control over 15 years ago. A more current, accurate statistic was needed. Darkness to Light researched and published a paper in 2013 outlining a new estimate for the prevalence of child sexual abuse, which determined through a review of child sexual abuse studies that the prevalence numbers are closer to 1 in 10 children.

How is this accurate if most child sexual abuse goes unreported?

Instead of using reporting data, researchers in the selected studies surveyed 17-year-olds, older youth who could report on all stages of childhood.

So, does that mean 1 in every 10 children is being sexually abused?

Actually, it means that 1 in every 10 children either has experienced abuse, is experiencing abuse, or will experience abuse by the time they are 18.

Does this statistic include all types of child sexual abuse?

It only includes abuse with physical contact – the most studied and objective form. It does not include peer abuse, only abuse by older youth and adults.

About the Research 

Darkness to Light’s Prevalence Rate White Paper is intended to provide a basis for a range of credible child sexual abuse prevalence rates. Studies conducted in the United States that collected child sexual abuse prevalence rate data since 1992 were identified and reviewed. Criteria were established for the age of data, methodology and definition of child sexual abuse. Of the 16 identified studies, six met the criteria established for relevance to practitioners. A range of child sexual abuse prevalence rates has been derived from these studies.

These studies suggest the child sexual abuse prevalence rate for girls is 10.7% to 17.4%* and the rate for boys is 3.8% to 4.6%*. These six studies suggest an overall full-childhood sexual abuse prevalence rate of 7.5% – 11.7%*.


Key Findings

  • About 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18 *,+
  • About 1 in 7 girls and 1 in 25 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18*
  • It is estimated that 7-12% of children are sexually abused*
  • As many as 400,000 babies born in the U.S. this year will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday unless we do something to stop it*,+ >

* Contact abuse only, which does not include voyeurism, sexting, or exposure to pornography.
+ The average of the upper and lower limits of the prevalence statistic range is 9.6%. This average has been rounded to 10%.
> Just over four million babies are born in the U.S. annually. Assuming that child sexual abuse rates remain constant over the next 17 years, about 400,000 babies born this year (10% of all babies born) will become victims of sexual abuse before they turn 18.