Available data suggest that about 1 in 5 children in Europe are victims of some form of sexual violence. It is estimated that in 70% to 85% of cases, the abuser is somebody the child knows and trusts. Child sexual violence can take many forms: sexual abuse within the family circle, child pornography and prostitution, corruption, solicitation via Internet and sexual assault by peers.
Sexual violence against children exists in every country in Europe, but there are many obstacles to obtaining a clear picture of its scope, depth and nature.
Most cases go unreported, disclosure can take years, reliable statistics are difficult to obtain and there is no standardised, co-ordinated method for gathering data.
Researchers have conducted many individual studies, but these vary in definitions and methodologies, making cross-comparisons difficult or impossible. Moreover, few of these studies are repeated at later dates, which would reveal developing trends, allowing states to respond early. What figures we do have are proxy figures based on studies with large sampling populations.
Having accurate, empirically-based data with which to build sound policies, based on real risks and needs, would greatly enhance protection and preventive strategies, including the quality and scope of services offered to child victims and their families.
Abused children vary in age, lifestyle and reaction to abuse, and need specialised, treatment therapies to help them along the road to recovery.
More reliable data would also single out particularly vulnerable groups of children and guide states to respond earlier with information and protection campaigns. Having a deeper understanding of perpetrators' family backgrounds would also facilitate better prevention policies targeting the root causes of sexual violence.
Read more about the recent European measures for data collection here.