Evidence indicates that it is exceedingly difficult for children who are sexu­ally abused to reveal their victimization to others, especially adults. In spite of years of media revelations of abuse of children by members of the clergy, "the real shocker is remembering that most child sexual abuse victims aren’t connected to churches, don’t file lawsuits and never speak publicly at all" (Nielsen, 2010, E1).

One especially significant reason that child sexual abuse often is not reported is that adults who are legally required to report sexual abuse of chil­dren have little reason to fear punishment if they remain silent (Heath, 2011). "Examination of police and court records from across the USA found that a combination of infrequent enforcement and small penalties means adults often have little to fear from concealing abuse" (Heath, 2011, p. 1A). Most states prosecute no more than one or two adults each year for failing to report abuse (Heath, 2011). The recent sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University involving Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach of the Penn State football team, has unleashed increased scrutiny of mandatory abuse-reporting laws. It is hoped that more adults will take an active role in reporting child sexual abuse, if not as a moral choice then out of concern about possible prosecution.

Because child sexual abuse often goes unreported at the time it occurs, researchers have relied heavily on reports provided by adults regarding their childhood experiences of sexual abuse. The estimates of child abuse in U. S. society are startling. Various surveys indicate that the proportion of
girls victimized ranges from 20% to 33%, whereas comparable figures for boys range from 9% to 16% (Finkelhor, 1993, 1994; Gorey & Leslie, 1997; Guidry, 1995). To date, the most comprehensive effort to estimate the prevalence of child sexual abuse was a 1997 meta-analysis in which data from 16 separate studies were combined and analyzed. Each of the investigations—14 U. S. and 2 Canadian studies—surveyed adult subjects who were asked to recall experiences of sexual abuse inflicted on them before they reached age 18. Combining these diverse samples yielded an aggregate sample of about 14,000 respondents. A summarization of all the studies indicated that approximately 22% of the women and 9% of the men reported being sexually abused as children (Gorey & Leslie, 1997).

We should also realize that, although the clinical literature has indicated that more girls than boys are victims of sexual abuse, the number of young boys who are sexually molested in the United States may be substantially higher than previously estimated (Denov, 2003a, 2003b). In fact, two surveys found that almost one fourth of male par­ticipants reported having experienced some form of sexual abuse by age 13 (Dilorio et al., 2002; Stander et al., 2002).

Mental health professionals have become increasingly aware that, although most sexual abusers of children are male, some children, both female and male, are sexually abused by women, often their mothers (Denov, 2003b; Hartwick et al., 2007; Strick­land, 2008). The belief that women sometimes sexually victimize children has been slow to emerge, both because of the prevailing notion that such abuse is a male activ­ity (Hartwick et al., 2007) and because "this subject is more of a taboo because female sexual abuse is more threatening—it undermines feelings about how women should relate to children" (Elliott, 1992, p. 12).

The preponderance of male perpetrators and male victims of child sexual abuse has become all too familiar via widespread media reports about clergy sexual abuse. This scandal has cost the Catholic Church in the United States over $2 billion in legal fees. In the authors’ home state, the Oregon Province of the Catholic Church has filed for bankruptcy as a result of numerous sexual abuse lawsuits. Many other Catholic arch­dioceses and dioceses throughout the United States have filed for bankruptcy protec­tion in recent years.

The Catholic Church in America recently announced the results of a study that allegedly provided information about the causes and context of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011). Among the most egregious conclusions of this study was an attempt to shift blame for the sexual abuse of minors by priests to the culture of free love and social upheaval characteristic of America in the 1960s and 1970s (Roberts, 2011). In their misguided attempt to redirect blame from where it belongs, squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrators, the authors of the report concluded that the abuse of children had little or nothing to do with priestly traits. The document stated that "[a] very small percentage of priests who had allegations of abuse were motivated by pathological disorders such as pedo­philia" (p. 5). This conclusion contrasts markedly to the definition of pedophilia in this textbook, which describes pedophilia as sexual contact between an adult and a child who are not related. The perpetrators were adult priests and most of the victims were minor children. Therefore, the denial of pedophilia in the report commissioned by Catholic bishops is clearly nonsensical.

The statistics on the prevalence of sexual abuse of children have aroused significant controversy. Some people claim that the statistics underestimate the problem, and oth­ers claim that they overestimate it. One of the most controversial types of reports has concerned the case of adults reporting so-called recovered memories of sexual abuse that they endured as children.