Sexual abuse is the involvement of dependent, developmentally immature children and adolescents in sexual activities they do not fully comprehend, to which they are unable to give informed consent, or that violate the social taboos of family roles. It includes paedophilia, an adult's preference for or addiction to sexual relations with children, rape and incest. The term paedophilia implies the non-violent love of children by an adult for sexual purposes. Sexual intercourse with children results from an abnormal erotic attraction to children. Paedophilia is often connected with homosexuality, usually male which is pederasty, but most victims of paedophilia are girls.
Secrecy and conscious or unconscious condoning of such behaviour by parents and children may complicate the indictment of the crime. The abusers are predominantly members of the victim's family or household. They may also be other authority figures, such as ministers of religion or masters at boarding schools.
In Western countries paedophilia occurs individually or within families as incest (father-daughter relationship is most common). Statistics show that the incidence of paedophilia with young children is rising but this may be because the secrecy surrounding such acts is becoming less effective. In the UK it is estimated that one child in ten in sexually abused. In 1990, Scotland Yard pornography unit had compiled a nation-wide directory of 3,000 known paedophiles. In Germany experts estimated that 150,000 children suffer constant sexual abuse from family members and relatives. In the USA 8.5% of women reported that they had been raped before 18, and in 50% of the cases by family members. This led to the conclusion that approximately 4 million adult women had memories of childhood abuse. Other studies indicate that 30% of women in the USA reported remembering at least one incident of sexual abuse as a child or as a teenager.
Sexual abuse robs children and adolescents of their developmentally determined control over their own bodies; and of their own preference, with increasing maturity, for sexual partners on an equal basis. The sexually abused child may develop unusual interest in the promiscuous, which in childhood and adulthood may contribute to further abuse. This is so whether the child has to deal with a single, over, and perhaps violent act, usually committed by a stranger; or with incestuous acts, forceful or otherwise, often continued over many years.
Child abuse is more likely to occur in domestic situations where traditional norms are broken. Dramatic increase in the number of divorces, cohabitation, illegitimacy and one-parent families will increase the cases of sexual abuse of children.