The silent pandemic: sexual traumatisation

More child pornographic material is being distributed ever more quickly via the internet; more and more children worldwide are experiencing sexual violence. What are the consequences?

250 million children worldwide are victims of sexual violence

Sexual abuse of children and adolescents is still a taboo subject in society, although the number of victims is constantly growing and they have to bear the consequences of traumatisation resulting from the abuse for the rest of their lives. At the World Health Summit 2021 in Berlin, sexual traumatisation was already described as a global pandemic. More and more child pornographic material is being distributed around the world via the internet at an ever increasing rate; more and more children worldwide are experiencing sexual violence.

The youngest are the most severely affected

According to the WHO, 250 million children and adolescents up to the age of 17 are affected worldwide. In India alone, according to Janavi Doshi (Programme for Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence), the equivalent of 120 cases of sexual violence against children were reported every day in 2020. Help hotlines saw a 50% increase in calls in the first 11 days of the lockdown. A meta-analysis of 55 studies from 24 countries found a prevalence of 8-31% for girls and 3-17% for boys.1

The UK-based Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) assessed 299,619 ads in 2020. 155,383 were depictions of child sexual abuse. This represents a 19% increase compared to 2019, with 44% containing so-called self-representations, e.g. from home, where it appears that children are showing themselves of their own volition. 64% of the total content contained depictions of children aged 11-13. 93% of the children involved were female.2

Particularly frightening is that the severity of sexual abuse increases proportionally the younger the children are. This means that children aged 0-2 years are exposed to the most severe form of sexual violence.

Consequences of sexual violence in childhood

Many survivors develop some of the following consequences as a result of the trauma:

This is what health professionals should look out for

WHO's Department of Violence Prevention is looking at how health services can support children who have experienced sexual violence and which preventive measures are appropriate to curb the pandemic. The WHO has published recommendations for dealing with children who have experienced sexual violence.
These include:

Nine out of ten affected children never receive help

More than half of the affected children are still unable to talk about their experience of violence to family members, friends or confidants. Less than a third know where help is available. 1 to 25% seek help, and 1 to 11% receive it.

This means that about 90% of children affected by sexual violence never receive help.4 What these figures mean for the mental health of the growing global society and what the consequences will be remains to be seen.