12 Disturbing Tweets That Prove How Common Sexual Abuse Is for Kids

The trending hashtag #WhenIWas shows that harassment and violence often begin at a young age.
(Photo: Sabine Duerichen/Getty Images)
Apr 19, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

From a stranger’s catcalls, to abuse from a family friend, to unwanted advances from their peers, thousands of women across the globe are sharing their experiences of childhood sexual harassment on Twitter under the hashtag #WhenIWas.

The hashtag stems from British writer Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism Project, which catalogs instances of discrimination and harssment at every stage of a woman’s life. On Tuesday morning, the group tweeted out the hashtag #WhenIWas to give a voice to women who experienced sexism before they reached the age of 18.

The vast majority of the resulting tweets detail disturbing instances of harassment and abuse, some of which happened when the women were as young as five. With more than 30,000 posts under the hashtag at publishing time, this Twitter conversation reveals the prevalence of childhood abuse.

It Starts Young

As many as one in four girls and one in six boys will be victims sexual abuse before they turn 18. Roughly 15 percent of sexual assault victims are children under 12, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.

It Hits Close to Home

Nearly 90 percent of child abuse comes at the hands of an adult the child knows and trusts, such as a family friend or a teacher. These abusers often use manipulative tactics—like threatening harm to family members or saying the child will be removed from the home—that can make it difficult for children to speak up.

Nowhere Is Safe

Upwards of 99 percent of women across the globe have experienced catcalling at some point in their life, according to an international study from antiharassment group HollaBack! The majority of women and girls first experience street harassment between the ages of 11 and 17, which can range from verbal to physical abuse. While some women can brush off unwanted attention from strangers, it often leads to feelings of insecurity, anger, and fear.

Sexism Is Taught

While the U.S. Department of Education prohibits discrimination based on gender under Title IX protections, women shared stories that show how school administrators can perpetuate sexist attitudes and prioritize boys’ learning over girls’ education.

Victims are Blamed

Fear of not being believed or being revictimized when coming forward is one of the main reasons women and girls do not report sexual abuse. An estimated 68 percent of sexual assault crimes are not reported to the police, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. While some women recalled instances of being blamed for their own harassment or assault, others admitted they still weren’t able to come forward with their own stories.