Children are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse if certain internal and external factors are present in their lives. However, the presence of these factors does not predispose a child to sexual abuse. Children may or may not be at higher risk depending on other internal and external factors that provide protection. 

Internal vulnerability factors:
  • The child is young.
  • The child is disabled.
  • The child is trusting.
  • The child is outgoing.
  • The child is not assertive.
  • The child is withdrawn.
  • The child is good.
  • The child is quiet.
  • The child has low self-esteem.
  • The child is depressed.
  • The child is unhappy.
  • The child has already experienced trauma or abuse.

Some of the above vulnerability factors are healthy aspects of childhood, such as the nature of a child to be trusting and outgoing. However, those factors also enable a sex offender to get close to the child and gain acess and trust. Some of the above factors present a sex offender with the opportunity to perform a role in the child's life. He will manipulate situations and present himself in a way that will meet the child's perceived need. He may compliment and shore up the self-confidence of the child with low self-esteem or he may plan exciting activities or give bribes and gifts to the depressed or unhappy child.  

External vulnerability factors:

  • The child lives with mother, who is a single parent.
  • The child's family is isolated and has little contact with others in the community.
  • The family's belief system includes privacy, secret-keeping, and instruction not to talk about what happens at home with outsiders.
  • The child's parents were abused.
  • The family is authoritarian in style so that the child is not empowered to talk about feelings, thoughts, and opinions freely and may believe that children can not say no to an adult.
  • The child's parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • The child's parents are involved in criminal behaviors. 
  • Non-family adults live in the home.
  • Domestic violence is present in the home.
  • One or both parents have mental health disorders.
  • The child's family is impoverished.
  • The child lives in a neighborhood with high drug and crime rates.
  • The child's family has been involved in the social services system and the child has previously been in foster care.

Protective factors present in the child's life may offset some of the external vulnerability factors. For instance, the child may live with a single mother, but she may be surrounded with supportive family and friends and involved in community activities. Poverty alone is not a predictor of sexual abuse; however, its presence along with other factors increases the risk. The child's internal resilence factors and the presence of other supportive adults in a child's life can both protect a child and reduce harmful consequences if abuse has occurred.   


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