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Sexual abuse

What is sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is when someone is pressured, forced or manipulated into any form of sexual activity with an adult or another young person.

Sexual activity includes:

  • Kissing
  • Sharing sexual messages and photos
  • Sexual touching
  • Oral sex
  • Vaginal or anal sex

It can happen anywhere (online or offline) and to anyone, regardless of their age or gender.

Someone could be sexually abused by anyone.

They could be:

  • Someone they know (including a friend or family member)
  • Someone they met online
  • Someone they are in a relationship with
  • Someone of any gender

Whoever a young person is being abused by, it is always wrong and never their fault.

If you have been pressured into any sexual activity you should call 101 and report this to the police. If you are under 18 and have been sexually abused online, you can report it to CEOP.

In an emergency, call the police on 999.

Recognising sexual abuse

Sexual abuse can happen in different ways and in different situations.

Some examples of sexual abuse are:

  • Being touched in a way you don’t like, without giving your permission or consent.
  • Being forced to have sex.
  • Being forced to look at sexual pictures or videos.
  • Being made to watch someone do something sexual. This can include someone exposing themselves to you via video chat, in pictures or in person.
  • Being forced to do something sexual to yourself or to someone else that you don’t want to do. This could be via a video chat, on images or face-to-face.
  • Being pressured into sending someone nude images.
  • Being threatened in a sexualised way.
  • Being sexually harassed online.

The effects of sexual abuse on mental health

People who have been sexually abused react very differently. There are no right or wrong ways to feel in the situation.

Some people say that it has an effect on their mental health (emotional wellbeing) which can change the way they think, feel and act.

People who have been sexually abused might feel isolated, scared or ashamed.

They may also experience:

  • Problems sleeping
  • Aggressive or irritable behaviour
  • Wanting to be alone
  • Feeling sad
  • Not being able to concentrate

Being abused online is just as harmful as offline abuse.

Getting support

It’s never your fault if an adult forced tricked, forced or persuaded you to send nudes. Or if someone you know has shared a nude of you around.  You are not to blame and you can seek help.

If you have been sexually abused, you may feel like you’re on your own but there is lots of help available. Whether it's happening now or happened in the past, there are people who will understand, listen to you, and who will help make it stop

Taking that first step to tell someone can be really difficult. It might be easier to tell someone you know and trust first, like a parent or teacher. Here are some tips on how to start the conversation.

If you would rather speak to someone confidentially, you can speak to a counsellor at Childline through their website or by calling 0800 1111.

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Need more help?

Report it

If you are under 18, report online sexual abuse to one of our Child Protection Advisors at the CEOP Safety Centre.

Report now

If you're over 18, call 101 to speak to your local police. 

In an emergency

If you're ever in immediate harm or danger: 

  • Call the police on 999 straight away
  • Tell an adult you trust who will be able to support you through a difficult time

Talk to someone

Childline logo

Free, confidential support online and over the phone for young people under 19.

Call 0800 1111

The Mix logo

The Mix is a charity that provides free information and support for under 25s.

Use their crisis messenger by texting THEMIX to 85258.

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