Child sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse is when a child is forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities, whether or not the child is aware it is happening. It doesn’t have to be physical contact, and it can happen online.
Sometimes the child won’t understand that what is happening to them is abuse. They may not even understand that it’s wrong, or they may be afraid to speak out.
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There are two 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 grooming, exploitation, 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).
Any child can be affected by sexual abuse and it affects both boys and girls. But they may be more at risk if they have:
- a history of previous sexual abuse
- a disability
- a disrupted home life
- experienced other forms of abuse.
Young or disabled children may not be able to tell someone what’s happening, or may not understand that they’re being abused.
Children who are sexually abused may:
Stay away from certain people
- they might avoid being alone with people, such as family members or friends
- they could seem frightened of a person or reluctant to socialise with them.
Show sexual behaviour that's inappropriate for their age
- a child might become sexually active at a young age
- they might be promiscuous
- they could use sexual language or know information that you wouldn't expect them to.
Have physical symptoms
- anal or vaginal soreness
- an unusual discharge
- sexually transmitted infection (STI)
The Dorset Police Child Abuse Investigation Team (CAIT) consists of specially trained, nationally accredited detectives who are responsible for the investigation of allegations or suspicions of child abuse. The team works closely with other agencies, including local authorities.
Most sexual abuse isn’t reported as children don’t tell anyone they are being abused for many reasons. If you have any concerns that any child is being abused please report it now.
There are steps we can take to keep children as safe as possible, such as making sure the places they spent time in are safe, and ensuring you have the knowledge and understanding of child sexual abuse so you are able to take action if you spot the signs and can help children to speak out if they are being abused. Click here for NSPCC advice around creating safer environments.
It is also important to talk to your children so that they know what is acceptable behaviour and understand that they are safe in telling you if they are being abused. The NSPCC’s ‘pants rule’ is an effective way to educate your young children that their body belongs to them and they should tell an adult if they are upset or worried. Watch the video at the bottom of this page for more information.
If you think a child is being abused or neglected please report your concerns via the online form here >
Alternatively if you wish to speak with someone call 101. In an emergency, if you believe a child is in immediate danger, call 999.
Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
NSPCC: 0808 800 5000, firstname.lastname@example.org
Local Authority Children’s Social Care:
Bournemouth: 01202 458101.
Poole: 01202 735046
Dorset: 01202 228 866, www.dorsetforyou.com/393713
Every child and young person has the right to be looked after properly. Nothing makes it okay for someone to abuse you and it is never your fault.
If you are experiencing abuse or you think someone you know is, talk to an adult you trust.
For support and advice visit Childline or call them on 0800 11 11.
Finding out that your child has been sexually abused is very upsetting.
Most importantly: believe them. Stay calm, listen carefully and reinforce that it is not their fault for the abuse to have happened.
The NSPCC can offer help, advice and support on 0808 800 5000 or visit www.nspcc.org.uk
Acts Fast support parents/carers of sexually abused children. Call 01202 797217 or visit www.actsfast.org.uk
The PANTS (underwear) rule
It is important to talk to your children so that they know what is acceptable behaviour and understand that they are safe in telling you if they are being abused.
The NSPCC’s ‘pants rule’ is an effective way to educate your young children that their body belongs to them and they should tell an adult if they are upset or worried. Watch the video below for more information.
Worried about teaching your child the PANTS rule? Or unsure what to do if your child says something that concerns you?