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.
What to do if you suspect abuse
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
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?”
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.
Please tell: a child's story about sexual abuse.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
It’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:
Healthy sexual behaviour in children and young people
Talking about difficult topics
Legislation, policy and guidance
Details of legislation, policy and guidance about child sexual abuse in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
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.
Call for Help
This Christmas, a child will contact Childline every 25 seconds. Donate now to help us answer their call.
Help and advice for professionals
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