What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse:
- is when a person uses power or authority over a child to involve them in sexual activity
- can include a wide range of sexual activity including fondling the child’s genitals, oral sex, vaginal or anal penetration by a penis, finger or other object, or exposure of the child to pornography.
Child sexual abuse may not always include physical sexual contact and can also include non-contact offences, for example:
- talking to a child in a sexually explicit way
- sending sexual messages or emails to a child
- exposing a sexual body part to a child
- forcing a child to watch a sexual act (including showing pornography to a child)
- having a child pose or perform in a sexual manner (including child sexual exploitation).
Child sexual abuse does not always involve force. In some circumstances a child may be manipulated in to believing that they have brought the abuse on themselves, or that the abuse is an expression of love, through a process of grooming.
What is child sexual exploitation?
Child sexual exploitation is also a form of sexual abuse where offenders use their power (physical, financial or emotional) over a child to sexually or emotionally abuse them.
It often involves situations and relationships where young people receive something (food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money etc.) in return for participating in sexual activities.
Child sexual exploitation can occur in person or online, and sometimes the child may not even realise they are a victim.
For information on the prevention of child exploitation and grooming see:
Prevention of child sexual exploitation and grooming
For more information on sexting and the transmission of sexual images between students, see:
Bully Stoppers - Sexting
Who is most at risk of child sexual abuse?
Any child can be victim to sexual abuse, however children who are vulnerable, isolated and/or have a disability are much more likely to become victim, and are disproportionately abused. See advice on identifying perpetrators of child sexual abuse.
Who are the common perpetrators of child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse is most commonly perpetrated by someone who is known to, and trusted by the child, and often someone highly trusted within their families, communities, schools or other institutions. See advice on identifying perpetrators of child sexual abuse.
Perpetrators can include, but are not limited to:
- a family member (this is known as intra family abuse and can include sibling abuse).
- a school staff member, coach or other carer
- a peer/child 10 years or over*
- a family friend or stranger
- any person via a forced marriage (where a student is subject to a marriage without their consent, arranged for by their immediate or extended family - this constitutes a criminal offence and must be reported)
*Unwanted sexual behaviour toward a student by a person 10 years or over can constitute a sexual offence and is referred to as student-to-student sexual offending.
Please note that a child who is under 10 years of age is not considered capable of committing an offence. Any suspected sexual behaviours by children under 10 is referred to as problem sexual behaviour.
What are the physical indicators?
Physical indicators of sexual abuse include (but are not limited to):
- injury to the genital or rectal area, e.g. bruising, bleeding, discharge, inflammation or infection
- injury to areas of the body such as breasts, buttocks or upper thighs
- discomfort in urinating or defecating
- presence of foreign bodies in the vagina and/or rectum
- sexually-transmitted diseases
- frequent urinary tract infections
- pregnancy, especially in very young adolescents
- anxiety-related illnesses, e.g. anorexia or bulimia
What are the behavioural indicators?
Behavioural indicators of sexual abuse include (but are not limited to):
- disclosure of sexual abuse, either directly (from the alleged victim) or indirectly (by a third person or allusion)
- persistent and age-inappropriate sexual activity, e.g. excessive masturbation or rubbing genitals against adults
- drawings or descriptions in stories that are sexually explicit and not age-appropriate
- fear of home, specific places or particular adults
- poor/deteriorating relationships with adults and peers
- poor self-care or personal hygiene
- complaining of headaches, stomach pains or nausea without physiological basis
- sleeping difficulties
- regressive behaviour, e.g. bed-wetting or speech loss
- depression, self-harm, drug or alcohol abuse or attempted suicide
- sudden decline in academic performance, poor memory and concentration
- engaging in sex work and/or sexual risk-taking behaviour
- wearing layers of clothing to hide injuries and bruises.
How to identify perpetrators of child sexual abuse
In addition to identifying the physical and behavioural signs of abuse in children, you can play a critical role in identifying signs that a member of the school community may be engaging in child sexual abuse, or grooming a child for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity.
Most critically you must follow the Four Critical Actions if you:
- feel uncomfortable about the way an adult interacts with one or more children
- suspect that the adult may be engaging in sexual abuse of one or more children
- suspect that the adult is grooming the child/children for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity
- reasonably believe that the adult is at risk of engaging in sexual activity with one or more children.
You must report suspected abuse, or risk of abuse regardless of any concerns about the risk to the reputation of the suspected perpetrator or school. A failure to report can result in criminal charges and your report could prove critical to protecting children in your care.
What are the behavioural indicators for perpetrators of child sexual abuse?
Behavioural indicators for perpetrators of child sexual abuse include (but are not limited to):
Family member (adult)
- attempts by one parent to alienate their child from the other parent
- overprotective or volatile relationship between the child and one of their parents/family members
- reluctance by the child to be alone with one of their parents/family members.
Family member (sibling)
- the child and a sibling behaving like they are in an intimate relationship
- reluctance by the child to be alone with a sibling
- embarrassment by siblings if they are found alone together.
School staff member, coach or other carer
- touching a child inappropriately
- bringing up sexual material or personal disclosures into conversations with a student/s
- inappropriately contacting the student/s, e.g. calls, emails, texts, social media
- obvious or inappropriate preferential treatment of the student/s (making them feel "special")
- giving of gifts to a student/s
- having inappropriate social boundaries, e.g. telling the potential victims about their own personal problems
- offering to drive a student/s to or from school
- inviting themselves over to their homes, calling them at night
- befriending the parents themselves and making visits to their home
- undermining the child's reputation (so that the child won't be believed).