Shocking results have come out about the nature and depth of the practice of child sexual abuse in South Africa.
According to the findings of a new Optimus Study almost 20% of young people are victims of sexual abuse. The figures are higher than the global average, although no worse than the highest rates identified in studies from Australia and other countries in Africa.
The study revealed that the reporting of sexual abuse however varies slightly between young people of different races and that victims are more likely to have been abused by another child than by an adult.
Wherever it occurs, child abuse has terrible consequences. The costs to the victim are incalculable, and to their community and country they are immense. And it has been estimated that the cost to the global economy resulting from child abuse could be as high as 7 trillion dollars, far greater than the investment required to prevent much of the abuse against children in all its forms.
From the South African example also, it was discovered that the problem may be far greater worldwide than has been, or is being acknowledged. Many victims suffer in silence due to cultural or other constraints, and, if they do report abuse, many countries do not have the capacity to record the data accurately or provide the level of support necessary. While helping the victims of abuse is paramount, evidence shows that ‘prevention pays’. It stops abuse from happening in the first place and avoids the terrible consequences for the victims.
The consequences also can be catastrophic. As the study reveals that in addition to the short-term trauma of abuse there are also severe long-term consequences. And research⁴ has shown a strong relationship between abuse during childhood and multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults.
Those who experience abuse more often than not have a 4- to 12-fold increase in the risk of alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and suicide attempts and a 2- to 4-fold increase in smoking, an increased likelihood of sexually promiscuous behavior and sexually transmitted diseases.
Other effects are a 1.4- to 1.6-fold increased risk of severe obesity, as well as the fact that they are also more likely to suffer from heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, liver disease, and have a shortened life expectancy.