If you want to ask a question or talk through any issues or concerns, call the Stop it Now! confidential, freephone helpline on 0808 1000 900.
The helpline is available from 9am-9pm Monday to Thursday and 9am-5pm Fridays. Alternatively you can contact us for help and advice via email at this address: email@example.com, with a response in 48 hours.
Emails received at this address are anonymised to preserve confidentiality, but please do not include details such as telephone numbers as this would be classified as identifying information. Please see our confidentiality policy below.
Also note that emails may not be replied to immediately due to high demand for the service. We aim to respond to all emails within 3-5 working days. If you are looking for immediate help, please contact the Helpline by phone.
Please read the Stop it Now!
Your comments help us to make sure this site provides easily accessible, relevant and helpful information.
We would like to know if there are things you particularly like and how you think we could improve it. Please enter your views in one or both of the boxes. You do not have to give your contact details.
There are many myths and misconceptions around child sexual abuse and getting sound information can be hard. These quick facts aim to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about sexual abuse.
What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse includes touching and non-touching activity.
Some examples of touching activity include:
- touching a child's genitals or private parts for sexual pleasure
- making a child touch someone else's genitals, play sexual games or have sex putting objects or body parts (like fingers, tongue or penis) inside the vagina, in the mouth or in the anus of a child for sexual pleasure
Some examples of non-touching activity include:
- showing pornography to a child
- deliberately exposing an adult's genitals to a child
- photographing a child in sexual poses
- encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts
- inappropriately watching a child undress or use the bathroom
As well as the activities described above, there is also the serious and growing problem of people making and downloading sexual images of children on the Internet (also referred to as child pornography). To view child abuse images is to participate in the abuse of a child. Those who do so may also be abusing children they know. People who look at this material need help to prevent their behaviour from becoming even more serious.
How widespread is it?
Child sexual abuse is largely a hidden crime, so it is difficult to accurately estimate the number of people who are sexually abused at some time during their childhood.
What is the biggest myth around child sexual abuse?
Very often the TV, radio and newspaper cover stories about children who are abused, abducted and even murdered, usually by strangers but it is important to know that these are not typical crimes. Sexual abusers are more likely to be people we know, and could well be people we care about; after all more than 8 out of 10 children who are sexually abused know their abuser. They are family members or friends, neighbours or babysitters – many hold responsible positions in society. Some will seek out employment which brings them into contact with children, some will hold positions of trust which can help to convince other adults that they are beyond reproach, making it hard for adults to raise their concerns.
- Child sexual abuse affects people in all walks of life.
- Vulnerable children, such as those with learning disabilities or who are isolated can be even more vulnerable to sexual abuse.
- Children find it extremely hard to speak out if they are being or have been abused. In 2000 a study was conducted by the NSPCC and below are some of the reasons why children were unable to tell:
“it was nobody else’s business”
“didn’t think it was serious or wrong”
“didn’t want parents to find out”
“didn’t want friends to find out”
“didn’t want the authorities to find out”
“didn’t think would be believed”
“had been threatened by abuser”
Child Maltreatment in the UK, NSPCC 2000
In cases where the abuser is a close family member, children may not reveal their sexual victimisation until they become adults. Many never tell even then.
There is little evidence that many children deliberately make false allegations or misinterpret appropriate adult-child contact as sexual abuse. In the few recorded cases in which children appear to have made false allegations, it has usually been the result of manipulation by an adult.
Children vary in their responses to sexual abuse. The manner in which the adults react to the child’s disclosure is an important factor in influencing how the child comes to view the abuse and his or her own role in it. Being believed and having family support can help the child to cope and adjust and can decrease some of the traumatic effects of sexual abuse.
- Child abusers come from all classes, racial and religious backgrounds and may be homosexual or heterosexual.
- Whilst it is more common for us to hear about male offenders, women can also sexually abuse children.
- In most cases, abusers are well known to their victims.
- Some young people are also capable of causing sexual harm to other children. This is an especially difficult issue to deal with, partly because it is hard for us to think of children doing such things, but also because it is not always easy to tell the difference between normal sexual exploration and abusive behaviour. Find out more about child abuse among children and young people and age appropriate sexual behaviour.
It is the abuser who initiates the sexual activity. The offender is responsible for the abuse no matter what the child does.
People who want to abuse children often build a relationship with the child and the caring adults who want to protect them. Many are good at making “friends” with children and those who are close to them. Some may befriend parents who are facing difficulties, sometimes on their own. They may offer to babysit or offer support with childcare and other responsibilities. Some seek trusted positions in the community which put them in contact with children, such as childcare, schools, children’s groups and sports teams. Some find places such as arcades, playgrounds, parks, swimming baths and around schools where they can get to know children. Some use the Internet to contact a child – often through chat rooms, social networking sites, and interactive gaming sites and other websites and online forums where children go.
Abusers use a number of tactics to ensure their victim’s silence. Giving gifts, encouraging a child to keep secrets, threats, blackmail, coercion and flattery are common tactics. They may make the child afraid of being hurt physically, but more usually the threat is about what may happen if they tell, for example, the family breaking up or the father going to prison or that they will get into trouble. In order to keep the abuse secret the abuser will often play on the child’s fear, embarrassment or guilt about what is happening, perhaps convincing them that no one will believe them. Sometimes the abuser will make the child believe that he or she enjoyed it and wanted it to happen. There may be other reasons why a child stays silent and doesn’t tell. Very young or disabled children or those with learning difficulties may lack the words or means of communication to let people know what is going on.
Reporting child sexual abuse
It is very disturbing to suspect someone we know of sexually abusing a child,
especially if the person is a friend or a member of the family. It is so much easier to dismiss such thoughts and put them down to imagination. But it is better to talk over the situation with someone than to discover later that we were right to be worried. And remember, we are not alone. Thousands of people every year discover that someone in their family or circle of friends has abused a child. Children who are abused and their families need help to recover from their experience. Action can lead to abuse being prevented, and children who are being abused receiving protection and help to recover. It can also lead to the abuser getting effective treatment to stop abusing and becoming a safer member of our community. If the abuser is someone close to us, we need to get support for ourselves too. Visit our get help pages for more information on what action can be taken.
What can be done to prevent child sexual abuse?
If you are concerned about keeping your child safe from sexual abuse, this is your chance to create a safer environment and a support network for everyone in your family. Visit our family safety plan pages to find out more.