This blog was written on April 2, 2024, by CHILD USA CEO and Founder Professor Marci Hamilton and World Childhood Foundation USA Executive Director Mary L Pulido, PhD. For over twenty years, World Childhood Foundation USA has been inspiring, promoting, and developing solutions to end sexual abuse, exploitation, and violence against children.


Although child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSAE) has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, the groundbreaking Out of the Shadows Index report from Economist Impact and the World Childhood Foundation USA establishes that a majority of states in the U.S. has failed to protect children from this crime.  This jarring report provides an in-depth analysis of 28 states’ failures to protect children: 25 states earned an “F” while the three others scored a D-.

Current statistics paint a dismal picture. Regarding “in-person” sexual abuse, one in five girls and one in 13 boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18, and 90 percent of these crimes are committed by someone the child knows, trusts, or loves.

The dark frontier for child sexual abuse now occurs online and the statistics point to exponential growth. In 2023, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received a staggering 36 million reports (an increase of over 4 million from 2022) of crimes against children, including child sexual abuse materials (possession, production, and distribution), child sex trafficking, sextortion, child molestation, sending unsolicited obscene materials to children and child sex tourism.

Wherever the abuse occurs, we bear the burden of knowing we have failed so many children. Now we need to prioritize preventing child sexual abuse through informed public policy and laws. A few states – Alaska, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma – currently have a plan that includes clear objectives in prevention but not one state has a comprehensive CSAE strategy or plan to target online sexual abuse.

A public health approach is needed to address this crisis.  While it cannot be the obligation of the child to prevent their abuse, education to help them understand their bodies and their rights can scale back CSAE. When it comes to child-on-child sex abuse, age-appropriate treatment and educational resources must be made available for both children and adolescents who are exhibiting problematic sexual behavior.  Although the federal government should be doing much more in the online arena, there is a role for the states as well. Legislators need to clear the roadblocks to prevention and provide the funding needed. The report informs us that a state need not be wealthy to prevent CSAE: states with lower GDP per capita scored better than some wealthier ones.

Teachers and daycare providers, who are on the front lines of child protection, are not getting the training they need. Teachers are not trained in 15 of the 28 states reviewed. Only two states – Texas and Vermont – require mandated training for daycare employees.

There is also a lack of sex education that is medically accurate, evidence-based and culturally responsive except in Washington.  This leaves children in the dark and vulnerable to sex crimes, as they often do not understand what is happening to them, which makes it harder for them to process and report CSAE.

The report also highlights some promising findings. States with more female lawmakers have better CSAE prevention and response systems. Putting women in office may be another strategy to elevate attention and investment for CSAE prevention.

CHILD USA tracks, studies, and advocates to change the CSAE statutes of limitation (SOLs).  Since 2002, 297 states laws have passed laws that extended, eliminated, and/or revived the child sex abuse SOLs.  SOL reform has identified thousands of unknown child predators, validated well over 100,000 victims, shifted the cost of the abuse from the victim to the ones who caused it, and made institutions accountable for their negligent failures to protect children. Another major systemic movement that is progressing has been the elimination of child marriage, which legalizes statutory rape. While it is a hard-fought battle in every state, according to CHILD USA’s latest report, ten states have raised the age limit for such marriages since 2017 when all 50 states permitted it.  Ten states have bills pending in 2024.

Another positive was the trauma-informed response pioneered by Child Advocacy Centers (CAC) across the states. CACs use multi-disciplinary teams consisting of the district attorney, special victims squad, child abuse pediatricians, forensic evaluators and child protective services, who work together to expedite evaluation, protection, and prosecution. Unfortunately, funding for them is insufficient.

These 28 states prove that the United States has a long way to go. So, let’s take a lesson from these shocking statistics. It’s time for action at the local, state, and federal levels to achieve what we expect from our children: passing grades. Our society’s well-being depends on it.