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Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is defined by the Declaration of the First World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, held in Stockholm in 1996, as "sexual abuse by an adult accompanied by remuneration in cash or in kind to the child or third person(s)." One study reported that children who received a bad reaction from the first person they told, especially if the person was a close family member, had worse scores as adults on general trauma symptoms, post traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and dissociation.

Another study found that in most cases when children did disclose abuse, the person they talked to did not respond effectively, blamed or rejected the child, and took little or no action to stop the abuse.

(2000) found that most of the relationship between severe forms of child sexual abuse and adult psychopathology in their sample could not be explained by family discord, because the effect size of this association decreased only slightly after they controlled for possible confounding variables.

Their examination of a small sample of CSA-discordant twins also supported a causal link between child sexual abuse and adult psychopathology; the CSA-exposed subjects had a consistently higher risk for psychopathologic disorders than their CSA non-exposed twins. generated controversy by suggesting that child sexual abuse does not always cause pervasive harm, that some college students reported such encounters as positive experiences and that the extent of psychological damage depends on whether or not the child described the encounter as "consensual." Depending on the age and size of the child, and the degree of force used, child sexual abuse may cause internal lacerations and bleeding.

He suggested that children who are victims of sexual abuse display a range of symptoms that include secrecy, helplessness, entrapment, accommodation, delayed and conflicted disclosure and recantation.

Adults who have been sexually abused as children often present for treatment with a secondary mental health issue, which can include substance abuse, eating disorders, personality disorders, depression, and conflict in romantic or interpersonal relationships.

Major factors that affect both the pathology and response to treatment include the type and severity of the sexual act, its frequency, the age at which it occurred, and the child’s family of origin. Summit, a medical doctor, defined the different stages the victims of child sexual abuse go through, called child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome.

Child marriage is one of the main forms of child sexual abuse; UNICEF has stated that child marriage "represents perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls".

Under the law, child sexual abuse is often used as an umbrella term describing criminal and civil offenses in which an adult engages in sexual activity with a minor or exploits a minor for the purpose of sexual gratification.

The American Psychological Association states that "children cannot consent to sexual activity with adults", and condemns any such action by an adult: "An adult who engages in sexual activity with a child is performing a criminal and immoral act which never can be considered normal or socially acceptable behavior." A study funded by the USA National Institute of Drug Abuse found that "Among more than 1,400 adult females, childhood sexual abuse was associated with increased likelihood of drug dependence, alcohol dependence, and psychiatric disorders.

The associations are expressed as odds ratios: for example, women who experienced nongenital sexual abuse in childhood were 2.83 times more likely to suffer drug dependence as adults than were women who were not abused." Child abuse, including sexual abuse, especially chronic abuse starting at early ages, has been found to be related to the development of high levels of dissociative symptoms, which includes amnesia for abuse memories.

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