Helen and Maisie’s story Recognising the signs of sexual abuse

Maisie sitting on the stairs“When my daughter Maisie* started school she was a happy, friendly and sociable child. She excelled at school and had lots of friends. She had a very kind heart and used to live in a world where everything is lovely and there are no bad people. She was loved to bits by her dad and I.

“About a year after she started school, Maisie’s teachers started to call us in to discuss her behaviour. On various occasions Maisie’s teacher told us that Maisie wasn’t doing the work she had been set and couldn’t concentrate. Maisie was stamping her foot and growling when she was asked to do work. This kind of behaviour was completely out of character for her.

“We were getting called into her school more and more regularly as Maisie’s disruptive behaviour escalated. It was worrying because I had never seen Maisie behave in this way and she wasn’t displaying any of these behaviours at home. I noticed that after school holidays we would get called in more often than towards the end of term. It made me think that maybe Maisie was picking up the behaviour from other children she was playing with in the holidays.

"I asked her if anyone had touched her anywhere private other than me or her father. As always, I expected her to say no but she didn't, she said yes."

“One day, after picking up Maisie from an after-school club she attended in the school holidays, I was getting her undressed at home and became worried about some marks I saw on her. Just randomly, as I have done in the past, I asked her if anyone had touched her anywhere private other than me or her father. As always, I expected her to say no but she didn’t, she said yes. She said that an adult who worked at the school and the afterschool club had touched her there.

“I was so confused; I wondered if the incident had been an accident, what had exactly happened and whether my daughter was ok. I sat down and asked her to explain exactly what had happened. She told me where the member of staff had touched her, exactly what he had done and then told me that he had hurt her and hadn’t said sorry. She had been sexually assaulted. I was shocked and numb, but disgusted and then very angry. I couldn’t comprehend that someone had assaulted my 4 1/2 year old daughter in that way.

“We reported the assault to social services, who referred Maisie to a sexual abuse clinic and the police. Maisie was questioned by the police and her clothes were sent off to be forensically tested.

“Maisie’s dad and I thought that Maisie was ok and that she hadn’t been affected by what had happened to her and hoped that she was too young to fully understand. Then a couple of weeks after she told us about the abuse she started to display very sexualised behaviour which wasn’t normal for her and certainly wasn’t normal for a 5 year old. She had become completely disengaged with school and didn’t want to do homework which she’d enjoyed before. I told the sexual abuse clinic about my concerns and Maisie’s behaviour. They recommended that Maisie do some therapeutic work with the NSPCC and she started seeing Amelia.

"Perhaps the most telling change is that Maisie has stopped carrying around her comfort teddy. The teddy used to be her protector and look out; making sure the bad men weren't coming again."

“I’ve seen a real change in Maisie since she started working with Amelia; she seems more assertive and ready to report wrongdoings. She’s settled in at her new school and is doing really well. She’s stopped the sexualised behaviour too. Perhaps the most telling change is that Maisie has stopped carrying around her comfort teddy. The teddy used to be her protector and look out; making sure the bad men weren’t coming again.

“We don’t know how long the sexual abuse had been going on for. Maisie’s behaviour had changed a couple of months before we found out about the abuse and, from what we understand from Maisie’s therapy, the assault she told me about wasn’t the only assault that took place.

“Maisie kept quiet about the abuse she went through because she didn’t understand what was happening to her and because she was afraid to tell anyone. I hadn’t spoken to Maisie about not letting people touch her where she wears her underwear because I had never thought anything like this would happen to my child. It wasn’t something I felt I needed to speak to her about yet. She knew that she shouldn’t go off with a stranger, but the person who sexually abused her wasn’t a stranger, he was a person of authority in her life.

“I didn’t have the language to speak to Maisie in an age appropriate way about keeping her body private or about what constituted sexual abuse. If Maisie had known that what was happening to her was wrong, then she would have spoken to me about it and we could have stopped the abuse earlier.”


Names and identifying features have been changed to protect identity. Photographs have been posed by models.

Find out how we help children like Maisie

Sexual abuse

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.
Read more about sexual abuse

Let's talk PANTS

Talking PANTS is a simple way that parents can help keep children safe from abuse. Join Pantosaurus and get the conversation started.
Find out about PANTS

Donate now

In the average primary school class, at least 2 children have suffered abuse or neglect. Donate now and help protect children today and prevent abuse from happening tomorrow.

Donate now

Are you there for children's mental health?

We need to make sure every child always has a place to turn - night and day. Sign our petition calling on the government to help our Childline service be there for every child.


Find out more

Signs, symptoms and effects of child abuse and neglect

The signs of child abuse aren't always obvious, and a child might not tell anyone what's happening to them. Sometimes children don't understand that what's happening is abuse. 
Spot the signs of child abuse

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?