Sexual abuse Helping children who have been sexually abused

Sexual abuse can ruin childhood and the impact can last a lifetime. 

We know that most sexual abuse isn’t reported, detected or prosecuted. As a priority we must identify and protect children who are being sexually abused or are at risk of sexual abuse.

If you think a child is in immediate danger

Don't delay - call the police on 999, or call us on 0808 800 5000, straight away.

If you're worried about a child, but unsure

Contact the NSPCC helpline to speak to one of our trained counsellors - call us on 0808 800 5000.

What to do if you suspect abuse

These are the steps you can take to help keep a child safe from abuse and to protect a child if you suspect they've been abused.
Find out what to do

Supporting children who have been sexually abused

Our therapeutic services can help children who have been sexually abused move on in their lives.

  • Letting the Future In is working to help children who have been sexually abused get back on track.
  • Hear and Now helps children who may have been sexually abused but haven’t told anyone about it.
  • Protect and Respect supports children and young people who have been, or are at risk of being, sexually exploited.

How Childline can help

We understand how difficult it is for children to talk about sexual abuse. Whether it's happening now or happened in the past, Childline can be contacted 24/7.

Calls to 0800 1111 are free and confidential. Children can also contact Childline online.

Books for children and parents

Reading a story can help children and young people work through their experiences and come to understand and move on from what has happened.

Stories can also help you talk to children and young people about sensitive subjects.

It's a good idea to read the book on your own first and come up with somes questions about the experiences of the characters:

      • “How did… feel about what happened to them?”
      • “How did they show their emotions?”
      • Who did they talk to about their experiences?
      • Who or what helped them?

Cover of 'Some secrets should never be kept'Some secrets should never be kept.
By Jayneen Sanders and illustrated by Craig Smith
A picture book telling the story of a little boy, Alfred, who is touched inappropriately by his mother's employer Lord Henry. Cover issues of grooming, inappropriate touch and speaking out against abuse. Includes notes for the reader and discussion questions.

Cover of 'Please tell: a child's story about sexual abuse'Please tell: a child's story about sexual abuse.
By Jessie
Told in the first person by Jessie, a girl who was sexually abused by her uncle. Shows how Jessie is supported by her family, what it is like seeing a psychologist and encourages children to keep telling a trusted adult until they are believed. 

For more books, search our library catalogue.

Cover of 'Child abuse (Issues Today Series)'Child abuse (Issues Today Series, Vol. 28)
By Christina Hughes (ed.)
This textbook-style booklet provides an introduction to the topic of child abuse. It discusses what child abuse is, UK statistics, stranger danger, child marriage, peer-to-peer abuse, sexual abuse, internet safety and the child protection system. Includes case studies and a selection of assignments to aid exploration of the ideas, facts and opinions presented in the resource. Quotes information sources including newspaper articles, magazines, government reports and statistics and surveys.

Cover of 'Speak'Speak
By Laurie Halse Anderson
Written in a diary format, this novel tells the story of Melinda, a teenager who finds herself outcast by her friends and unable to speak after calling the police to an end-of-summer party. Melinda is retreating into herself after being raped by a boy at the party but only begins to remember what happened and regain her confidence through Mr Freeman's art class.

The cover of 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
By Stephen Chbosky
A coming-of-age novel narrated by Charlie who describes his experiences in a series of letters. Charlie is befriended by Sam who reveals she was sexually abused as a child. As Charlie and Sam's relationship becomes romantic, Charlie becomes inexplicably uncomfortable. He begins to recall memories of being sexually abused by his aunt when he was younger.

For more books, search our library catalogue.

Cover of 'Helping your child recover from sexual abuse'Helping your child recover from sexual abuse.
By Caren Adams
Offers practical guidance for parents covering: disclosure; legal proceedings; how parents and children may grieve differently; responding to the reactions of friends and family; rebuilding self-esteem; helping a child feel safe and in control; dealing with confusion about sex and sexuality; and recognising when a child is ready to move on.

Cover of 'When your child has been molested: a parents' guide to healing and recovery'When your child has been molested: a parents' guide to healing and recovery.
By Kathryn Brohl
Covers finding out and reporting; physical and emotional signs; working with a counsellor; the impact on family members; responding to family and friends; abuse within the family.

For more books, search our library catalogue.

Top tips for practice: advice for professionals

Cover of 'Someone to lean on' guide We've created a guide, Someone to lean on (PDF), for professionals who work with children who have been sexually abused. Whether you’re working in social care or mental health, this guide will support you in giving children and young people back their future.

The guide has been put together by our practitioners who deliver our Letting the Future In therapeutic programme. This programme is based on a comprehensive evidence review, practice experience and the views of adult and child survivors of sexual abuse.

  • Be prepared to listen. Don’t assume all experiences are the same. You haven’t heard it all before.
  • Theory is important, but see the bigger picture. You don’t need to restrict yourself to specific techniques that may not suit the child in front of you.
  • Include children in making the decisions that affect them and be open.
  • Confidence and trust need to be built first. Don’t expect children and young people to want to talk about their abuse.
  • Children don’t always respond to direct questions and may not have the words to describe what was done to them or the impact it had.
  • To build a rapport in your sessions small talk is good, so ask what they like and build in activitiest hat interest them.
  • Children like routine. You can earn their trust by being consistent. Even the basics, like keeping appointments and turning up on time matter to children.
  • At the beginning, you can set agreements about how you'll work together so the child knows what to expect.
  • Don't promise what you can't deliver. But, you can instil a sense of hope and optimism. You want them to feel she or he "can help me with this".
  • Ensure the child knows they are believed and that you've followed up on what they've told you. They need assurance they will be protected.
  • Establish the rules about confidentiality. Let the child know that everything they say in sessions is kept private; unless, of course, they or another child is at risk of harm.
  • Get the child's agreements before you talk to others. Agree what gets talked about, then tell the child about it.
  • Parents react in different ways to the abuse of their child, be it denial, anger, guilt or depression. This can affect their ability to support those who need them most.
  • Be positive about the potential for children to recover and their essential role now and in the future when therapy ends.
  • Stress the importance of believing, supporting and protecting their child.
  • Help parents understand their child's needs and give advice on the best approach.
  • Don't forget it is the abuser that is responsible for the abuse not the parent or carer, who may have been groomed too.
  • Abuse increases a child's vulnerability; ensure you have assessed the carer's ability to protect the child from further abuse.
  • You can also refer parents to specialist support that can help them deal with their own issues if needed, for example, mental health.
  • One thing to do early on is to identify the child's support network. Do this with the child where possible.
  • Identify roles and responsibilities of all professionals. Child protection concerns need to be shared and addressed in a timely manner.
  • Quickly implement home safety plans and school safety plans – if you don't know how to do these, then ask for advice and support.
  • Working with children and carers is a real privilege and you are likely to feel strongly about the work.
  • Professionals need to look after themselves when working with sexual abuse. Even if you’re a qualified social worker, you’ll come across things you haven’t seen before. Good supervision and peer support is vital.
  • Set time to continually read around the subject and keep up to date with new learning.
  • Don’t be afraid to say you feel stuck and to ask for advice from peers or others in a position to advise.
  • Take some time to reflect and to work out what is needed to support the family.

How we know our services work

Teenage girl and practionerIt’s essential that professionals understand what works to help children who have been sexually abused. A vital part of this is building an evidence base through evaluation of services.

We know our service Letting the Future In can work to help children who have been sexually abused. We’ve undertaken the world’s largest evaluation for a service of this kind. 

Our research provides internationally significant evidence for what works well and what works less well when providing a service for children who have been sexually abused. Find out more about the evidence, impact and evaluation of Letting the Future In.

Our service Protect and Respect supports children and young people who have been, or are at risk of being, sexually exploited. Find out more about the evidence, impact and evaluation of Protect and respect.

Partnerships and organisations working to build the evidence base to help sexually abused children who have published evaluations of their services in 2014-2015 include:

  • Helter Skelter Project is an outreach service in Cambridgeshire which aims to help young people leave or avoid sexually exploitative relationships. Findings from an internal evaluation of the project were published in Children and Young People Now (Rogers, 2015).

Healthy sexual behaviour in children and young people

Useful advice on what is normal sexual behaviour, warning signs that suggest there may be a problem, and how best to react.
What is healthy sexual behaviour?

Talking about difficult topics

There are lots of ways to make it a bit less painful for you both when it comes time to talk about a 'difficult' subject.
Get advice for parents

Legislation, policy and guidance

Details of legislation, policy and guidance about child sexual abuse in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

See legislation, policy and guidance

What you can do

It's Time to demand change

Up to 90% of children who've been abused will develop mental health issues by the time they're 18.

Help us change this

Donate now

Every call is a chance to stop abuse. Support the NSPCC helpline and help us stop children suffering in silence.

Help give children a voice

Call the NSPCC helpline

If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact our professional counsellors 24/7 for help, advice and support.

Call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

0808 800 5000

Report a concern

Help and advice for professionals

CASPAR

Our Current Awareness Service for Practice, Policy And Research delivers free weekly email alerts to keep you up-to-date with all the latest safeguarding and child protection news.

CASPAR is currently being upgraded but you can still sign up by contacting our Information Service.

Sign up to CASPAR

Information Service

Our free service for people who work with children can help you find the latest policy, practice, research and news on child protection and related subjects.

For more information, call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

0808 800 5000

Submit an enquiry

Follow @NSPCCpro

Follow NSPCCpro

Library catalogue

We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.

Search the library

New in the Library

A free weekly email listing all of the new child protection publications added to our library collection.

New in the Library is currently being upgraded but you can still sign up by contacting our Information Service.

Sign up to New in the Library

References

  1. Rogers, Emily. (2015) Young people learn how to move on after CSE. Children and young people now. 28 April-11 May: 32-33.