What is sexual abuse?

What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse can happen to anyone under 18 and is never a child's fault.

Parents text content

Child sexual abuse is when a child, by which we mean anyone under the age of 18, is pressured, forced or tricked in to any sexual activity with an adult or another child. This isn’t only physical contact and can happen both in person and online.

 Child sexual abuse should always be reported to police as soon as possible. If you believe a child is in immediate risk of danger, call 999.

 All sexual contact between an adult and a child, online or in person, is sexual abuse; this includes:

● sexual touching by another person, of any part of the body, clothed or unclothed, including using an object

● assault by penetration, including rape or penetration of the mouth with an object or part of the body

● encouraging a child to engage in sexual activity, including:

    • sexual acts with someone else
    • making a child strip or masturbate
    • intentionally engaging in sexual activity in front of a child
    • not taking proper measures to prevent a child being exposed to sexual activities by others

● meeting a child following sexual grooming, with the intent of abusing them

● taking, making, allowing someone to take, distributing, showing or advertising, indecent images of children

Online sexual abuse such as pressuring, forcing or tricking a young person to share a sexual image, strip or perform sexual acts on camera

● paying for sexual activity with a child

● encouraging a child into prostitution or pornography

● showing a child images of sexual activity, including photographs, videos or via webcams

 Is sexual activity between two young people illegal?

The age young people can legally have sex is 16. This is called the ‘age of consent’. Sexual activity between two consenting young people over the age of 16 is not illegal. It is important to know that:

● any sexual contact without consent is illegal, regardless of the age of those involved. Share the facts of consent with your child

● children aged 13 and under cannot consent to any type of sexual activity and have additional protections in law

● it is illegal for anyone to take, make or share nude or semi-nude images of under 18s. Learn more about the law around nude image sharing

  Signs of child sexual abuse

Many children feel unable to tell anyone about sexual abuse or may not understand that what is happening to them is abuse. It’s important to know the signs to help identify and help children experiencing sexual abuse.  Children may show a range of emotional and physical signs, including:

● staying away from certain people or avoiding being alone with certain people, including friends and family members

● showing sexual behaviours or language that are not in line with their age and stage of development

● becoming sexually active at a young age

● self-harm

● changes in mood, behaviour and/or eating habits

● difficulty sleeping, nightmares or bed-wetting

● changes in their online habits – spending a lot more time on their phone and online or suddenly spending very little time

● having physical symptoms, such as:

  • anal or vaginal soreness
  • an unusual discharge
  • unexplained marks and bruising
  • sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • pregnancy

Finding out your child has been sexually abused is a traumatic experience. Whatever has happened, it’s important that they know that it is not their fault and that they have your support. Find out more about how to support your child and get help for yourself.