For Parents

Risk factors that predispose children to sexual abuse

Any child can be at risk of being sexually abused, whether they are a girl or a boy. Most of the time, the abuser is a known person: a family member, an acquaintance, a friend or someone else who has had their eye on the child, such as a teacher or coach.

However, some children may be more at risk of sexual abuse than others. It’s good to know what factors increase this risk so we can protect our children and teach them how to take care of themselves.

The family environment plays a crucial role in a child’s emotional stability and it is therefore essential that parental figures provide a peaceful environment in which the child feels safe, listened to, loved and important. A stressful environment, where parents are not available to the child because of the various problems that overwhelm them, can make the child vulnerable to an adult who promises security and stability but may have hidden agendas. At the same time, poor communication between parent and child weakens the natural bond between them and causes the child to isolate himself and avoid sharing important aspects of his life, including possible sexual abuse, which he is most likely to keep secret for fear of being judged, rejected or wanting to protect his parent. In family environments where there is domestic violence, children are more likely to be sexually abused by a family member, as in such families we often encounter more forms of abuse (emotional, psychological and physical) and more psychological problems, such as alcohol or drug abuse and different types of personality disorders.

Children with low self-esteem need affection and acceptance and may therefore be more vulnerable to offers to admiration, attention or gifts. The more they feel worthless, the more they overlook the importance of establishing their own boundaries and being treated with respect by others.

Unlimited access to technology, unsupervised in one way or another, can create opportunities for those seeking to abuse children’s trust for personal gain. Time spent online can thus turn into horrific abuse in which the abuser blackmails the child to give sexual gratification.

Children who are part of the LGBTQ+ community or are in the process of understanding their sexual and/or gender identity often experience feelings of isolation and alienation from their peers. They feel a lot of fear and insecurity and see themselves more as outsiders, without social support. An abuser could easily take advantage of this vulnerability, convincing the child that they are the only person who understands and accepts them as they are. Because of the many myths about sexual abuse and sexual orientation, children will shy away from disclosing the abuse they have suffered, especially as they are afraid to open up to their parents about their sexuality.

Poor education about boundaries is a significant risk factor for exposure to sexual abuse. Children who do not have a clear understanding of healthy boundaries will not be able to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. They may not understand when someone has invaded their personal space or when they have invaded the private space of others and therefore not understand what constitutes abuse. Thus, these children are more likely not to disclose sexual abuse they have suffered and also more likely to display inappropriate behaviours that may attract the attention of potential abusers.

Children with certain disabilities are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse because they are more in need of care, more dependent on others and more in need of acceptance. If they have physical limitations, these children may find it harder to escape from abusive situations. Also, if their ability to communicate is significantly impaired, they will not be able to disclose any sexual abuse they have experienced.

An important part of grooming (a strategy often used by abusers to get close to potential victims) is to isolate them from others first. The loneliness that a neglected child often feels could make a bully’s job easier. A child who is not given enough affection or who is repeatedly left alone is an already isolated child, lacking the support of loved ones, whom a potential abuser can easily reach.

Children who have already been sexually abused in the past are at greater risk of being re-victimised if they do not receive the support they need to recover from the trauma. If no action has been taken about the sexual abuse they have endured, the child is likely to still be in a risky environment that allows the abuse to continue (e.g. at home or at the school they attend).




11 Factors That Increase the Risk of Child Sexual Abuse (

Sexual abuse | NSPCC