June 10, 2015

Child Sexual Abuse

Child Sexual Abuse

  • Child sexual abuse or child molestation is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation.

  • Forms of child sexual abuse include asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual activities, regardless of the outcome; indecent exposure of the genitals, female nipples, etc., to a child with intent to gratify their own sexual desires or to intimidate or groom the child, or using a child to produce child pornography.

  • Child sexual abuse can occur in a variety of settings, including home, school, or work, in places where child labor is common.

  • The effects of child sexual abuse can include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, victimization in adulthood, and physical injury to the child, among other problems.

  • Sexual abuse by a family member is a form of incest and can result in more severe and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest.

  • Under the law, child sexual abuse is 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 Psychiatric 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.”

  • Child sexual abuse includes touching and non-touching activity.

Some examples are of touching activities are:-
1) touching a child’s genitals or private parts for sexual pleasure

2)making a child touch someone else’s genitals, play sexual games or have sex putting objects or body parts like fingers, tongue or penis inside the vagina or in the mouth or anus of a child for sexual pleasure

Some examples of non-touching activities are:
1) showing pornography to a child
2) deliberately exposing an adult’s genitals to a child
3) photographing a child in sexual poses
4) encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts
5) inappropriately watching a child undress or use the bathroom

  • As well as the activities described above, there is also the serious and growing problem of people making and downloading sexual images of children on the Internet.

  • To view child abuse images is to participate in the abuse of a child. Those who do so may also be abusing children they know.

  • People who look at this material need help to prevent their behaviour from becoming even more serious.

Warning Signs of Abuse

Children often show us rather than tell us that something is upsetting them. If we notice a combination of worrying signs it may be time to call for help or advice.

What to watch out for in children:
1) Acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects
2) Nightmares, sleeping problems
3) Becoming withdrawn or very clingy
4) Becoming unusually secretive
5) Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings and seeming insecure
6) Regressing to younger behaviours, e.g. bedwetting
7) Unaccountable fear of particular places or people
8) Outburst of anger
9) Changes in eating habits
10) New adult words for body parts and no obvious source
11) Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts
12) Self-harm like cutting, burning or other harmful activities
13) Physical signs, such as, unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals or mouth
14) Sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy
15) Running away
16) Not wanting to be alone with a particular child or young person

Any one sign doesn’t mean that a child was or is being sexually abused, but the presence of several suggests that you should begin to ask questions and consider seeking help. Keep in mind that some of these signs can emerge at other times of stress such as:

1) During a divorce
2) Death of a family member or pet
3) Problems at school or with friends
4) Other anxiety-inducing or traumatic events

Physical Warning Signs

Physical signs of sexual abuse are:-

  1. Pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth
  2. Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements.
  3. Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training.

If you see these signs, take your child to a doctor. Your doctor can help you understand what may be happening and test for sexually transmitted diseases.

Child Abuse Among Children And Young People

  • Children pass through different stages of development as they grow and their awareness and curiosity about sexual matters change as they pass from infancy into childhood and then through puberty to adolescence.

  • Each child is an individual and will develop in his or her own way. However, there is a generally accepted range of behaviours linked to a child’s age and developmental stage.

  • Sometimes these will involve some exploration with other children of a similar age. Occasionally, we may need to explain to children why we would prefer them not to continue with a particular behaviour.

  • This is a chance to talk with them about keeping themselves and others safe and to let them know that you are someone who will listen.

  • Disabled children may develop at different rates, depending on the nature of their disability, and they can be more vulnerable to abuse. Children with learning disabilities, for example, may behave sexually in ways that are out of step with their age.

  • Particular care may be needed in educating such children to understand their sexual development and to ensure that they can communicate effectively about any worries they have.

  • It is important to recognise that while people from different backgrounds have different expectations about what is acceptable behaviour in children, sexual abuse happens across all races and cultures.

  • Remember that each child develops at his or her own pace and not every child will show the behaviours described below. If you have any worries or questions about a child you know, talk to someone about it.

Pre-school children (0-5) years commonly do:
1) Use childish ‘sexual’ language to talk about body parts
2) Ask how babies are made and where they come from
3) Touch or rub their own genitals
4) Show and look at private parts

But they rarely:
1) Discuss sexual acts or use sexually explicit language
2) Have physical sexual contact with other children
3) Show adult-like sexual behaviour or knowledge

School-age children (6-12 years) commonly do:
1) Ask questions about menstruation, pregnancy and other sexual behaviour
2) Experiment with other children, often during games, kissing, touching, showing and role playing e.g. mums and dads or doctors and nurses
3) Masturbate in private

But they rarely:
1) Masturbate in public
2) Show adult like sexual behaviour or knowledge

School-age children (12 years and above) commonly do:
1) Ask questions about relationships and sexual behaviour
2) Use sexual language and talk between themselves about sexual acts
3) Masturbate in private
4) Experiment sexually with adolescents of similar age

But they rarely:
1) Masturbate in public
2) Have sexual contact with much younger children or adults

Warning Signs of Sexually Harmful Behaviour

  • One of the hardest things for parents to discover is that their child may have sexually harmed or abused another child.

  • In this situation, denial, shock and anger are normal reactions. If it is not responded to quickly and sensitively, the effect on the whole family can be devastating.

  • For this reason it is vital to contact someone for advice about what to do as soon as you suspect that something is wrong.

  • The positive message is that early help for the child or young person and their family can make a real difference.

  • Evidence suggests that the earlier children can get help, the more chance there is of preventing them moving on to more serious behaviour.

  • If you are in this situation, remember that you are not alone. Many other parents have been through similar experiences, and, as a result, the child and family found the help they needed are were able to rebuild their lives.

  • The first step is to decide that it would be helpful to talk it over with someone else.

Do you know a child or adolescent who:
1) Seeks out the company of younger children and spends an unusual amount of time in their company?
2) Takes younger children to ‘secret’ places or hideaways or plays ‘special’ games with them, e.g. doctor and patient, removing clothing etc., especially games unusual for their age.
3) Insists on hugging or kissing a child when the child does not want to.
4) Tells you they do not want to be alone with a child or becomes anxious when a particular child comes to visit?
5) Frequently uses aggressive or sexual language about adults or children?
6) Shows sexual material to younger children?
7) Makes sexually abusive telephone calls?
8) Shares alcohol or drugs with younger children or teens?
9) Views child pornography on the internet or elsewhere?
10) Exposes his or her genitals to younger children?
11) Forces sex on another adolescent or child?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should talk to the child or young person and seek advice.

What you can do if you see warning signs:

1) Don’t wait for ‘proof’ of child sexual abuse.
2) Keep lines of communication open with your child.
3) Educate everyone in the family.
4) Set clear family boundaries.
5) Get safe adults involved.
6) Take sensible precautions about who has access to your child.
7) Know your local resources and how to access them.
8) Seek help and advice.


  • If you are concerned about the sexualized behaviours in a parent, cousin, sibling, friend, or neighbour, you should consider contacting the police or children’s services in your area, they can take action if appropriate.

  • If you choose not to do that, care enough to talk to the person whose behaviour is worrying you.

  • Make sure the child knows that it is alright to talk with you about what may have already happened – that you love them and will help them.

One of the biggest myths around child sexual abuse:

  • Very often the TV, radio and newspapers cover stories about children who are abused, abducted and even murdered, usually by strangers but it is important to know that these are not typical crimes.

  • Sexual abusers are more likely to be people we know, and could well be people we care about; after all more than 8 out of 10 children who are sexually abused know their abuser.

  • They are family members or friends, neighbours or babysitters – many hold responsible positions in society.

  • Some will seek out employment which brings them into contact with children, some will hold positions of trust which can help to convince other adults that they are beyond reproach, making it hard for adults to raise their concerns.

The Victim
1) Child sexual abuse affects people in all walks of life.
2) Vulnerable children, such as those with learning disabilities or who are isolated can be even
3) More vulnerable to sexual abuse.

Children find it extremely hard to speak out if they are being or have been abused. Studies conducted have revealed some of the reasons why children were unable to tell:
1) “it was nobody else’s business”
2) “didn’t think it was serious or wrong”
3) “didn’t want parents to find out”
4) “didn’t want friends to find out”
5) “didn’t want the authorities to find out”
6) “was frightened”
7) “didn’t think would be believed”
8) “had been threatened by abuser”

  • In cases where the abuser is a close family member, children may not reveal their sexual victimisation until they become adults. Many never tell even then.

  • There is little evidence that many children deliberately make false allegations or misinterpret appropriate adult-child contact as sexual abuse. Or else, it has usually the result of manipulation by an adult.

  • Children vary in their responses to sexual abuse. The manner in which the adults react to the child’s disclosure is an important factor in influencing how the child comes to view the abuse and his or her own role in it.

  • Being believed and having family support can help the child to cope and adjust and can decrease some of the traumatic effects of sexual abuse.

The Abuser

  • Child abusers come from all classes, racial and religious backgrounds and may be homosexual or heterosexual.

  • Whilst it is more common for us to hear about male offenders, women can also sexually abuse children.

  • In most cases, abusers are well known to their victims.

  • Some young people are also capable of causing sexual harm to other children. This is an especially difficult issue to deal with, partly because it is hard for us to think of children doing such things, but also because it is not always easy to tell the difference between normal sexual exploration and abusive behaviour.

  • Find out more about the child and the other children and young people that they are in contact with and then try to get help.


  • The signs that an adult is using their relationship with a child for sexual reasons may not be obvious.

  • We may feel uncomfortable about the way they play with the child, or seem always to be favouring them and creating reasons for them to be alone. There may be cause for concern about the behaviour of an adult or young person if they:

  1. Refuse to allow a child sufficient privacy or to make their own decisions on personal matters.

  2. Insist on physical affection such as kissing, hugging or wrestling even when the child clearly does not want it.

  3. Is overly interested in the sexual development of a child or teenager.

  4. Insists on time alone with a child with no interruptions.

  5. Spends most of his or her spare time with children and have little interest in spending time with people their own age.

  6. Regularly offers to babysit children for free or take children on overnight outings alone.

  7. Buys child expensive gifts or give him or her money for no apparent reason.

  8. Frequently walks in on child or teenagers in the bathroom.

  9. Treats a particular child as a favourite, making him or her feel ‘special’ compared with others in the family.

  10. Picks on a particular child.

  • People who want to abuse children often build a relationship with the child, that of the caring adults who want to protect them. Some may befriend parents who are facing difficulties. They may offer to babysit or offer support with childcare and other responsibilities.

  • Some seek trusted positions in the community which put them in contact with children, such as childcare, schools, children’s groups and sports teams.

  • Some find places such as arcades, playgrounds, parks, swimming baths and around schools where they can get to know children.

  • Some use the Internet to contact a child, often through chat rooms, social networking sites, and interactive gaming sites and other websites and online forums where children go.

  • Abusers use a number of tactics to ensure their victim’s silence. Giving gifts, encouraging a child to keep secrets, threats, blackmail, coercion and flattery are common tactics.

  • They may make the child afraid of being hurt physically, but more usually the threat is about what may happen if they tell, for example, the family breaking up or the father going to prison or that they will get into trouble.

  • In order to keep the abuse secret the abuser will often play on the child’s fear, embarrassment or guilt about what is happening, perhaps convincing them that no one will believe them.

  • Sometimes the abuser will make the child believe that he or she enjoyed it and wanted it to happen. There may be other reasons why a child stays silent and doesn’t tell.

  • Very young or disabled children or those with learning difficulties may lack the words or means of communication to let people know what is going on.

The Grooming Dynamic

  • Perpetrators of child sexual abuse may gain the trust of potential child victims and their caregivers by methodically “grooming” them.

  • This process begins with identifying potential victims, gaining their trust, and breaking down their defenses.

  • These grooming tactics are often directed at potential youth victims as well as the adult caregivers, parents, other youth-serving professionals, and the community-at-large.

  • After gaining access to children and youth by achieving this trust, the perpetrator initiates some kind of contact that he or she finds sexually gratifying.

  • Grooming helps the offender gain access to the victim, and sets up a relationship grounded in secrecy so that the crime is less likely to be discovered.

  • Perpetrators of child sexual abuse are often individuals known to the family; they may be acquaintances, influential members of the community, trusted friends and even family members.

  • Sometimes the offender is known to the family through association with an organization or activity in which the child or youth participates, such as school, a community club, sports team, recreation center or camp.

  • One reason that the perpetrator is able to exploit the child is because he or she holds the power in the relationship based on age and experience, size and strength, and adult status.

  • A perpetrator may manipulate and use those power differences to gain the youth’s trust and confidence, and/or to create fear that enables the perpetrator to coerce the child or youth.

  • This is not common in all cases of child sexual abuse in many scenarios, there is NO trust at all, only coercion and fear.

  • Grooming steps include:

1) Identifying and targeting the victim.

Any child or teen may be a potential victim. Some predators may be attracted to children and youth with certain characteristics or may target youth with certain co-existing factors, such as vulnerable parents, to help facilitate the crime.

2) Gaining trust and access.

The perpetrator may observe the child and assesses his or her vulnerabilities to learn how best to approach and interact with the child. Perpetrators may offer the victims special attention, understanding and a sympathetic ear, and then engage the child in ways that eventually gain their friendship and trust. They may play games with victims or give them rides, provide them with gifts and/or special treats.

3) Playing a role in the child’s life.

The perpetrator may manipulate the relationship so that it appears he or she is the only one who fully understands the child or meets the child’s needs in a particular way. A perpetrator may also exploit a youth’s empathy and convince the young person that she or he is the only one who understands the perpetrator and reinforce that the perpetrator “needs” the child or youth.

4) Creating secrecy around the relationship.

The perpetrator may reinforce the special connection with the victim when they are alone or through private communication with the victim such as letters, emails or text messages, and strengthen it with admonitions against telling anyone, lest others be unhappy about it. The perpetrator may threaten the victim with disclosure, suicide, physical harm to the child or loved ones, or other traumas if he or she tells.

5) Initiating sexual contact.

With the power over the child victim established through emotional connection coercion or one of the other tactics, the perpetrator may eventually initiate physical contact with the victim. It may begin with touching that is not overtly sexual though a predator may find it sexually gratifying and that may appear to be casual arm around the shoulder, pat on the knee, etc. Gradually, the perpetrator may introduce more sexualized touching. By breaking down inhibitions and desensitizing the child, the perpetrator can begin overtly touching the child.

6) Controlling the relationship.

Perpetrators rely on the secrecy of the relationship to keep it going, and to ensure that the child will not reveal the abuse. Children are often afraid of disclosing the abuse. They may have been told that they will not be believed, or that something about the child “makes” the abuser do this to them. The child may also feel shame, or fear that they will be blamed. Often, the perpetrator threatens the child to ensure that she or he won’t disclose the abuse.

7) Isolating the child.

Offering the child rides and/or taking the child out of his or her surroundings is one way that the perpetrator may separate the child from others and gain access to the child alone, so that others cannot witness the abuse. In other instances, perpetrators have been successful in molesting victims without detection while other adults were in the room.


Reporting child sexual abuse

  • It is very disturbing to suspect someone we know of sexually abusing a child, especially if the person is a friend or a member of the family. It is so much easier to dismiss such thoughts and put them down to imagination.

  • But it is better to talk over the situation with someone than to discover later that we were right to be worried.

  • Remember, we are not alone. Thousands of people every year discover that someone in their family or circle of friends has abused a child.

  • Children who are abused and their families need help to recover from their experience.

  • Action can lead to abuse being prevented, and children who are being abused receiving protection and help to recover.

  • It can also lead to the abuser getting effective treatment to stop abusing and becoming a safer member of our community. If the abuser is someone close to us, we need to get support for ourselves too.

If a child talks about abuse: What protective adults need to know:-

  • Three quarters of children who are sexually abused do not tell anyone about it and many keep their secret all their lives.

  • Sexual abusers are more likely to be people we know, and could well be people we care about; after all more than 8 out of 10 children who are sexually abused know their abuser. They are family members or friends, neighbours or babysitters and/or many hold responsible positions in society.

  • The closer the relationship between the abuser and the victim, the less likely they are to talk about it.

  • Children often show us rather than tell us that something is upsetting them so being aware of the signs is vital. However, children may give vague hints that something is happening.

  • Their information may not be clear and they may not have the words to explain what is happening to them. The way adults respond to this is vital to ensuring the child’s safety.

  1. Respond with care and urgency

  • If you think a child is trying to tell you about a sexually abusive situation, respond promptly and with care.

  • The police and children’s social services have joint working arrangements for responding to suspected child sexual abuse.

  • They are experienced in this work and will deal sensitively with the child and family.

  1. Believe the child

  • If a child trusts you enough to tell you about abuse, you must remember that they rarely lie about such things.

  • Although it may be hard to believe that someone we trust or care about is capable of sexually abusing a child, it’s highly unlikely that a child would deliberately make false accusations about adult-like sexual behaviours.

  • The pressures on the child to keep silent are enormous. It takes tremendous courage to talk about abuse.

  • A child’s claim that sexual abuse did not happen (when it actually did), or taking back a disclosure of abuse are common.

  • Sometimes the child’s account of what happened changes or evolves over time. This is a common pattern for disclosure and should not invalidate their story.

  1. Be supportive

  • It is important that they feel supported.

  • Don’t dismiss their claims or put them off talking about it.

  1. Stay calm

  • If they are talking to you about it, don’t get angry. Stay calm and steady.

  • If you get angry the child may think you are going to punish them. This will play into the hands of the abuser who warned the child not to tell.

  1. Be caring

  • Make sure the child knows you love them and that they have done nothing wrong, and keep telling them that.

  • The child will need to see that adults believe them and they are doing all they can to protect them.

  • Make sure the child knows they were right to talk about it and that you are glad they came to you.

  1. Face the problem

  • When the abuse is known, adults must face the problem honestly, protect the child at all costs and place responsibility appropriately with the abuser.

  1. Get help

  • Get help from professionals who can help guide you towards safety and healing.

  • Information on sources of help can be found on our get help or further support and useful links pages.

  1. Do not despair

  • Children can and do recover from child sexual abuse.

  • It is incredibly difficult to hear that someone you love has been hurt in such a way but help to recover is available.

What the child may be feeling:


1) Afraid that the person who abused them will reject or harm them or those they love.
2) Scared that no one will believe them.
3) Anxious about what will happen next.
4) Confused and conflicted.
5) Unsure about whom they can trust.
6) Feels protective and/or loving toward the person who abused them.
7) Regrets having told (may even take back the disclosure).

Guilt and shame

1) Believes they are responsible for the abuse.
2) Feels guilt about upsetting the family by telling.
3) Feels ashamed if they experienced positive physical sensations.

Hope and relief
1) Is relieved that the burden of secrecy has been lifted.
2) Feels hopeful that the abuse will now stop.

Sexual abuse or incest within the family

  • When a child is abused by another family member, each family member is affected.

  • Typically, the help of outside specialists is needed to address the emotional toll on the family and to assist the healing process of each individual.

Contradictory feelings

  • When sexual abuse takes place within families, the pain we experience can include conflicting and confusing emotions.

  • We may feel extreme anguish over what was done to the child, while still feeling love and concern for the family member who committed the abuse.

What protective parents and caregivers may be feeling:


1) Rage toward the person who abused for harming the child, betraying our trust, deceiving and manipulating us.
2) Anger at the child for not telling sooner.


1) Self-blame for not having seen what was happening in time to protect the child even when the person responsible for the abuse did all that they could to keep it hidden.

2) Guilt over loving or caring about the person who abused the child.


1) Afraid about how the abuse will impact the child.
2) Fearful about the family’s future and the consequences for the person who abused the child.

Loneliness and loss

Grieving for the loss of the life we had, or thought we had, before we knew about the abuse.

Extreme sense of isolation.

  1. Finding support for ourselves as protective parents and caregivers, we also need support.
  2. Connecting with those with whom we can share our feelings will help us cope with the trauma and the challenges we face.

Intervening with the abuser:

  • The person who has sexually abused a child needs to be held accountable and get specialized professional help.

  • The local police or children’s services are often best placed to take the next steps. Should you choose not to contact them, and if it is safe, consider speaking directly to the person who has offended.

Some points to keep in mind when speaking with someone who has or may have abused:

1) Explore the situation in a non-accusatory, non-confrontational way. This may help to reduce the person’s defensiveness.

2) Be specific about the behaviours that concern you and state your reactions to them.
3) Ask simple and direct questions.

4) Let the person know that there is help available; individuals can and have gone on to live abuse-free lives by first taking responsibility for the harm they’ve done, facing the consequences of their actions, and committing themselves to change and to specialized treatment.

5) If you feel it, let the person know that you care about them. Loving support can be an important factor in getting someone to take responsibility, face consequences and get treatment.

6) Conversations generally need to happen more than once. Find a friend for yourself whom you can turn to for support.

When abuse is exposed the abuser may experience any of the following:

Feels angry at the child for telling

Shame and remorse

1) Feels extreme self-hatred; may want to self-harm
2) Is remorseful over the harm they have done


1) Afraid of legal consequences
2) Fears loss of family and loved ones, home, reputation, status and job
3) Concerned about being viewed contemptuously by others
4) If a child or teen, fears being taken from home or losing friendships


1) Feels impulse to deny, justify or minimize the harm
2) Relief and hope

That the burden of the secret has been lifted

That they will get help for a problem they have struggled with secretly over time

Helping yourself

  • Learning that a child has been abused is a time of trauma.

  • It’s important to get help for yourself to help you cope with the emotions, challenges and decisions you face.

  • This may be the time to turn to a friend, clergy member, counsellor or therapist for emotional support.

  • The more able you are to cope, the more you can help your child and family