High rates of sexual violence against children: A global problem

Few victims receive supportive services

Press Release

For Immediate Release: Thursday, June 4, 2015
Contact: Media Relations
(404) 639-3286

Sexual violence against children is a significant problem in many low- and middle-income countries. At least 25 percent of females and 10 percent of males experienced some form of childhood sexual violence in the majority of seven countries studied, according to findings from the Violence Against Children Surveys (VACS) released today in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Among the children who reported experiencing childhood sexual violence, fewer than 1 in 10 received supportive services, including healthcare, legal/security aid, or counseling support.

“Far too many of the world’s children experience sexual violence and have long-lasting physical and mental health effects,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “It is crucial that communities, governments, and families increase legal and society-wide efforts to protect children and provide healthcare, legal, and counseling support.”

The VACS data highlighted in this report focus on lifetime childhood sexual violence (before age 18 years) among female and male respondents’ ages 18 to 24 in seven countries (Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Haiti, and Cambodia).

The most recent data, collected between 2007 and 2013, show that patterns in the prevalence of any form of sexual violence differed by country. Swaziland and Zimbabwe reported the highest rates of sexual violence among females (38 percent and 33 percent, respectively); Cambodia reported the lowest rates for both females (4 percent) and males (6 percent).

Other key findings:

  • In most countries surveyed, no more than 10 percent of male and female victims of sexual violence received services, including health and child protective services.
  • In every country studied, no more than 7 percent of male victims of sexual violence received services.

Preventing sexual violence is an essential component of HIV prevention strategies practiced through The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Experiencing violence is associated with increased risk for further sexual exploitation, multiple sex partners, experiencing or perpetrating rape, unwanted pregnancy, and HIV infection. The results of this study reinforce PEPFAR’s dedication to advancing research on the linkage between childhood sexual violence and HIV infections worldwide.

The VACS measures physical, emotional, and sexual violence against males and females in order to identify risk, protective factors, and health consequences. Begun in Swaziland eight years ago, the VACS now have been carried out in many countries as part of a global public-private partnership called Together for Girls (TfG). The members of TfG include CDC, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), PEPFAR, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Health Organization (WHO), and others.

To review the full report and the study details, visit http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr.

CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention, works to prevent violence and its adverse health consequences. For more information about the Violence Against Children Survey, visit http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/vacs/index.html.


Page last reviewed: June 4, 2015