Child sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is involving a child or young person in sexual activities, touching them in a sexual way, or using a child for sexual gratification. In law, children under the age of 16 years cannot give consent to sexual activities.

Abusers can be any gender, ethnicity or age. About 90% of child sexual abuse is by a relative or someone known to the family.

An abuser may ‘groom' the child. Grooming involves activities that seem ok, like babysitting, outings, or buying treats and presents. This makes it easier to access the child and harder for the child to tell an adult and be believed.

What can you do?

Adults need to act to keep children safer from sexual abuse. Know how the kids normally behave and who they spend time with. If you notice changes in their behaviour, check in with them.

Children can be taught personal safety, in the same ways we teach water safety and road safety. This may include:

  • Talking about emotions. Build relationships with children where they can share feelings and problems and know they will be taken seriously. Children who have warm relationships with many safe adults are less vulnerable to abuse.
  • Listening when children say ‘no' to touch they don't like - even if it's just because Uncle's beard is too scratchy or Aunty hugs too hard.
  • Teaching the correct names of all body parts.
  • Dealing with sexual questions and sexual play, such as masturbation, calmly - curiosity is a normal part of development.
  • Teaching children that some secrets can be happy, like birthday presents, but no one should be asked to keep bad or yucky secrets.
  • Talking to children about how they might tell someone. What would you do if the adult didn't listen? What if they told you to keep your worry secret or to forget about it? 

What should I look out for?

One thing we can do is know the signs that sexual abuse may be happening to a child:

  • a change in sleeping, eating, toileting, washing behaviour
  • becoming withdrawn
  • problems trusting others, avoiding certain people and places
  • acting younger than their age, becoming clingy and tearful
  • displaying sexualised behaviour or language which is age inappropriate
  • becoming angry, hostile, aggressive to others or self-harming
  • learning or concentration difficulties
  • telling you about someone or something that worries them

If a child has unexplained changes in behaviour, make time to talk to them.

If a child tells you something that sounds like abuse, take it seriously. It is rare for a child to make up stories about abuse.

If a child has a worry about a person or something that has happened take it seriously. If you're not sure what to do, check it out with experts. You don't have to give your name.

If you are concerned about a child, call the Police on 111.

Get advice or support: