A child is sexually abused when they are forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities.

This doesn't have to be physical contact and it can happen online.

Sometimes the child won't understand that what's happening to them is abuse.

They may not even understand that it's wrong.

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Helping children who have been sexually abused

Find out how you can help protect children who are being sexually abused or are at risk of sexual abuse.

Keeping children safe from child sexual abuse

Signs, symptoms and effects

Find out more about the signs, symptoms and effects of child sexual abuse.

Identifying the signs of sexual abuse

How do you define child sexual abuse

There are 2 different types of child sexual abuse. These are called contact abuse and non-contact abuse.

Contact abuse involves touching activities where an abuser makes physical contact with a child, including penetration. It includes:

  • sexual touching of any part of the body whether the child's wearing clothes or not
  • rape or penetration by putting an object or body part inside a child's mouth, vagina or anus
  • forcing or encouraging a child to take part in sexual activity
  • making a child take their clothes off, touch someone else's genitals or masturbate.

Non-contact abuse involves non-touching activities, such as groomingexploitation, persuading children to perform sexual acts over the internet and flashing. It includes:

  • encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts
  • 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
  • online abuse including making, viewing or distributing child abuse images
  • allowing someone else to make, view or distribute child abuse images
  • showing pornography to a child
  • sexually exploiting a child for money, power or status (child exploitation).

Read more about the official definitions of child sexual abuse in the UK.

1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused

Explanation: Figures based on findings from 11-17 year olds. Young people aged 11-17 were asked whether anyone had tried to make them do anything sexual. Those aged 16-17 were also asked if they had done sexual things with an adult in a position of trust or with an adult when they were still under 16 years.

The research uses a definition of sexual abuse that includes any unwanted sexual activity, as well as criminal sexual activity with an adult, where physical contact took place. It does not include non-contact sexual abuse (such as flashing or saying sexual things) or "consensual" sexual activity between adolescents.

4.8% of 11-17 year olds reported contact sexual abuse at some point in childhood (see p.8).

For the source of these figures please see our summary of child protection register statistics in the UK (PDF).

When sexual exploitation happens online, young people may be persuaded, or forced, to:

  • send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
  • take part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone
  • have sexual conversations by text or online.

Abusers may threaten to send images, video or copies of conversations to the young person's friends and family unless they take part in other sexual activity.

Images or videos may continue to be shared long after the sexual abuse has stopped.

Child grooming

Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purpose of sexual abuse or exploitation.

Find out more

More about child sexual abuse

Who is affected

Any child can be affected by sexual abuse. Find out more about the risks.

Find out more

Preventing child sexual abuse

How we can protect children and young people from sexual abuse.

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Facts and statistics

Read the latest facts and statistics about child sexual abuse.

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Children and young people can be groomed online or in the real world, by a stranger or by someone they know - for example a family member, friend or professional. 
Read more about grooming

Child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a type of sexual abuse in which children are sexually exploited for money, power or status.
Read more about child sexual exploitation

What you can do

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The Underwear Rule

A simple way that parents can help keep children safe from sexual abuse – without using scary words or even mentioning sex.
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