What is sexual abuse?
When a child or young person is sexually abused, they’re forced or tricked into sexual activities. They might not understand that what’s happening is abuse or that it’s wrong, or they might be afraid to tell someone. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere – and it can happen in person or online.
It’s never a child’s fault they were sexually abused – it’s important to make sure children know this.
Types of sexual abuse
There are two types of sexual abuse – contact and non-contact abuse. And sexual abuse can happen in person or online.
Contact abuse is where an abuser makes physical contact with a child. This includes:
sexual touching of any part of a child’s body, whether they’re clothed or not
using a body part or object to rape or penetrate a child
forcing a child to take part in sexual activities
making a child undress or touch someone else
Contact abuse can include touching, kissing and oral sex – sexual abuse isn’t just penetrative.
Non-contact abuse is where a child is abused without being touched by the abuser. This can be in person or online and includes:
exposing or flashing
exposing a child to sexual acts
making them masturbate
forcing a child to make, view, or share child abuse images or videos
forcing a child to take part in sexual activities or conversations online or through a smartphone.
Signs of sexual abuse
Knowing the signs of sexual abuse can help give a voice to children. Sometimes children won’t understand that what’s happening to them is wrong, or they might be scared to speak out. Some of the signs you might notice include:
Avoiding being alone with or frightened of people or a person they know.
Language or sexual behaviour you wouldn’t expect them to know.
Having nightmares or bed-wetting
Alcohol or drug misuse
Changes in eating habits or developing an eating problem
Changes in appearance or personal care standards
If a child is being or has been sexually abused online, they might:
spend a lot more or a lot less time than usual online, texting, gaming, or using social media
seem distant, upset, or angry after using the internet or texting
be secretive about who they’re talking to and what they’re doing online or on their mobile phone
have lots of new phone numbers, texts, or email addresses on their mobile phone, laptop, or tablet
Children and young people might also drop hints and clues about the abuse.
If a child reveals abuse
If a child talks to you about sexual abuse it’s important to:
listen carefully to what they’re saying
let them know they’ve done the right thing by telling you
tell them it’s not their fault
say you’ll take them seriously
don’t confront the alleged abuser
explain what you’ll do next
report what the child has told you as soon as possible.