Sexual abuse

If you're worried about sexual abuse, we're here to support you. We have information and advice to help navigate through a difficult time.

Finding out your child has been sexually abused can be distressing and you might not know what to do next. We're here to support you and your loved ones and give you the advice you need to help navigate through a difficult time.

Worried about a child?

If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact our helpline to speak to one of our counsellors. Call us on 0808 800 5000, email help@nspcc.org.uk or fill in our online form.

What is sexual abuse?

When a child or young person is sexually abused, they're forced or tricked into sexual activities. They might not understand that what's happening is abuse or that it's wrong. And they might be afraid to tell someone. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere – and it can happen in person or online.

It's never a child's fault they were sexually abused – it's important to make sure children know this.

Types of sexual abuse

There are 2 types of sexual abuse – contact and non-contact abuse. And sexual abuse can happen in person or online.

Contact abuse is where an abuser makes physical contact with a child. This includes:

  • sexual touching of any part of a child's body, whether they're clothed or not
  • using a body part or object to rape or penetrate a child
  • forcing a child to take part in sexual activities
  • making a child undress or touch someone else.

Contact abuse can include touching, kissing and oral sex – sexual abuse isn't just penetrative.

Non-contact abuse is where a child is abused without being touched by the abuser. This can be in person or online and includes:

  • exposing or flashing
  • showing pornography
  • exposing a child to sexual acts
  • making them masturbate
  • forcing a child to make, view or share child abuse images or videos
  • making, viewing or distributing child abuse images or videos
  • forcing a child to take part in sexual activities or conversations online or through a smartphone.

Find out more about grooming and child sexual exploitation.

Signs of sexual abuse

Knowing the signs of sexual abuse can help give a voice to children. Sometimes children won't understand that what's happening to them is wrong. Or they might be scared to speak out. Some of the signs you might notice include:

  • Avoiding being alone with or frightened of people or a person they know.
  • Language or sexual behaviour you wouldn't expect them to know.
  • Having nightmares or bed-wetting.
  • Alcohol or drug misuse.
  • Self-harm.
  • Changes in eating habits or developing an eating problem.
  • Bruises.
  • Bleeding, discharge, pains or soreness in their genital or anal area.
  • Sexually transmitted infections.
  • Pregnancy.


If a child is being or has been sexually abused online, they might:

  • spend a lot more or a lot less time than usual online, texting, gaming or using social media
  • seem distant, upset or angry after using the internet or texting
  • be secretive about who they're talking to and what they're doing online or on their mobile phone
  • have lots of new phone numbers, texts or email addresses on their mobile phone, laptop or tablet.

Children and young people might also drop hints and clues about the abuse.

If you're worried about a child and want to talk to them, we have advice on having difficult conversations.

We're here to support you, no matter your worry. Call us on 0808 800 5000, email help@nspcc.org.uk or fill in our online form.

If a child discloses

If a child talks to you about sexual abuse it's important to:

  • listen carefully to what they're saying
  • let them know they've done the right thing by telling you
  • tell them it's not their fault
  • say you'll take them seriously
  • don't confront the alleged abuser
  • explain what you'll do next
  • report what the child has told you as soon as possible.

Effects of sexual abuse

Sexual abuse can have both short and long term effects. The impact of sexual abuse can last a lifetime. Children, young people and adults may live with:

  • anxiety and depression
  • eating disorders
  • post-traumatic stress
  • difficulty coping with stress
  • self-harm
  • suicidal thoughts and suicide
  • sexually transmitted infections
  • pregnancy
  • feelings of shame and guilt
  • drug and alcohol problems
  • relationship problems with family, friends and partners.

Our services can support children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse to help them move on and receive the care they need.

Who's at risk

Any child is at risk of being sexual abused. It's important to remember that both boys and girls can be sexually abused.

Most children who've been sexual abused were abused by someone they know. This could be a family member, a friend or someone who has targeted them – like a teacher or sports coach.

Children who are sexually abused online could be abused by someone they know. They could also be abused by someone who commits a one-off sexually abusive act or a stranger who builds a relationship with them.

Some children are more at risk of sexual abuse. Children with disabilities are more likely to be sexually abused – especially those who are unable to tell someone what's happening or don't understand what's happening to them is abuse.

Some abusers target children who are isolated or being neglected by their parents or carers. If a family is going through a tough time, they might not be able to give their child enough attention or supervision, putting them in unsafe situations.

Report sexual abuse

To report sexual abuse:

  • contact the children's social care team at their local council.
  • call 999 if the child is at immediate risk or call 101 if you think a crime has been committed
  • call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online.

Support

For parents

Finding out your child has been sexually abused can be frightening and distressing. But there's help for you and your family.

MOSAC supports non-abusing parents and carers whose children have been sexually abused.

We're here to support you, no matter your worry. Call us on 0808 800 5000, email help@nspcc.org.uk or fill in our online form.

For children and young people

We run therapeutic services for children who have experienced, or are at risk of, sexual abuse and their families:

  • Hear and Now
  • In Ctrl
  • Letting the Future In
  • Protect and Respect.

The Lighthouse provides support to children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse to help them recover.

Our Women as Protectors service helps mums and carers who are in contact with a man who may cause sexual harm to their children.

Find out more about all our services for children, including how to get in touch with ones in your area.

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.

Childline has information and advice for children and young people about sexual abuse and rape and sexual assault.

Prevent sexual abuse

We can all help prevent sexual abuse and keep children safe. We can stop sexual abuse before it happens. If a child has been sexually abused, we can help give them a voice so they can tell someone.

Teaching children and young people about healthy relationships and how to stay safe online can help prevent sexual exploitation. These foundations can be laid from a young age. Our PANTS rules are a simple way to teach younger children how to stay safe from abuse. And we've got tips and advice on how to have difficult conversations.

It's also important to make sure children and young people know there are trusted adults they can speak to about their worries, including Childline.

You can ask your child's school to book a free Speak out Stay safe assembly for primary school children. Our specially trained staff and volunteers hold assemblies and workshops, covering topics like bullying and abuse, but without using any scary words or adult language.

 

If you're worried about gangs, it can be difficult to know what to do to help protect young people. Whether they're thinking about joining a gang, are already involved or want to leave, they need help and support. You can contact our helpline for details of organisations near you that can give you support and advice. Call us on 0808 800 5000, email help@nspcc.org.uk or fill in our online form.

Encourage transparency in what your children are doing online. You can keep gaming devices and computers and laptops with webcams in the living room or family spaces. Share Aware helps children learn about the risks of sharing information online. Use parental controls and keep up-to-date on the apps and games children and young people are using. NetAware is regularly updated and has age ratings, information and advice.

If your child has sexually abused someone

We know that sometimes children are abused by other young people. When this happens it's harmful to both themselves and others. Children who develop behaviour which harms others have often experienced abuse and neglect themselves. Sometime children who have been sexually abused might not what has happened to them is wrong – which makes them feel their sexual behaviour towards others is okay.

If your child has sexually abused or harmed another child, or you're worried about their behaviour, it's important to get them the support they need. We run therapeutic services for children who are at risk of harming other children sexually:

  • National Clinical Assessment and Treatment Service (NCATS)
  • Turn the Page.

Find out more about all our services for children, including how to get in touch with ones in your area.

Help if you're worried about your behaviour

If you're worried about your behaviour, help is available.

If you are, or think you might, sexually abuse a child or young person, there's help available. Stop it now! is a free helpline offering information, guidance and support.

  • Call Stop it now! – People living in the UK and Ireland can call for free on 0808 1000 900 (Monday – Thursday 9am-9pm and Friday 9am-5pm).
  • Message online – Stop it now! have a secure messaging service available24-hours a day.

You can call us for information and advice on 0808 800 5000, email help@nspcc.org.uk or fill in our online form.

Work or volunteer with children and families?

Visit NSPCC Learning for information, resources and training to help you safeguard and protect children and young people across the UK.

Go to NSPCC Learning

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