What is child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse/assault is any sexual act or sexual threat imposed upon a child or young person. An adult, adolescent or older child can use their authority or power or can bribe, coerce, threaten, exploit or use force to involve a child in sexual activities. Child sexual abuse includes a range of behaviours.

This may include:

  • Touching
  • Encouraging children to touch other people in a sexual way
  • Exposing themselves to children
  • Asking the child to expose him/herself
  • Showing pornography to children
  • Rape (any form of penetration)
  • Sexting ‘…creating, sharing, sending or posting sexually explicit messages  or images via the internet, mobile phones or other electronic devices.

Who perpetrates child sexual abuse?

Perpetrators come from a range of settings. This may include:

  • The family home
  • Friendship networks
  • Schools
  • Churches
  • Community organizations
  • Online

Important facts about child sexual abuse

  • The vast majority of perpetrators are family members or well known to the child or young person.
  • Under no circumstances is the child responsible.
  • Children are vulnerable, impressionable, and dependent on adults to care and protect them.
  • Child sexual assault is a crime.
  • In Australia 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the time they turn 18.
  • Children rarely lie about sexual assault.
  • It is estimated that fewer than 30 per cent of all sexual assaults on children are reported.
1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the time they turn 18

The effects of sexual assault/abuse on children

Child sexual abuse/assault is serious and can be highly traumatic for the child or young person. It can leave the child feeling betrayed, confused, frightened, guilty and ashamed. The trauma can have mild to severe, short term or long term negative psychological effects and behavioural problems. It can effect learning, relationships and the overall development and mental health of the child. The effects vary and depend on the abuse circumstances and the developmental stage of the child. Importantly, the negative effects can be minimised if the child or young person is offered support and believed. Many go on to live happy, functioning and secure lives in the future.

Sexual abuse affects the whole family. For this reason, Allambee works to reduce the impacts of the abuse and to promote appropriate inter-personal boundaries and protection from future abuse with the child, parents and siblings when required.

Possible signs in children that may sometimes indicate child sexual abuse:

  • New or unusual fears
  • Changes in concentration or memory difficulties
  • Changes in eating or sleeping
  • New fear or reluctance to see a particular person or attend a regular event
  • Sexual themes in artwork, stories, play etc.
  • Showing a knowledge of sexual behaviour beyond their years
  • Bedwetting or soiling after being toilet trained
  • Rapid mood swings
  • “Acting out” behaviours (aggression / destructive behaviours / truanting behaviour)
  • “Acting in” behaviours (withdrawal from friends / depression)
  • Vaginal, penile or anal soreness, discharge or bleeding
  • Problems with friends and schoolwork
  • Vague symptoms of illness such as headaches or tummy aches
  • Self-harm (cutting / risky behaviour)
  • Zoning out / not listening
child sexual assault teenage boy

What to do if a child tells you they have been sexually abused?

  • Listen carefully and maintain eye contact at the child’s level.
  • Remain calm to avoid adding to the child’s possible emotional distress.
  • Tell the child you believe them.
  • Tell the child it is not their fault.
  • Tell the child they did the right thing by telling you.
  • Tell the child you are glad they are talking about it.
  • Tell the child you will do everything you can to help them and keep them safe.
  • Support the child by acknowledging it must be difficult to tell you.
  • Don’t make promises you cannot keep.
  • Don’t interrogate and push for details.
  • Inform the child you need to tell someone in order to keep them safe.
  • Document what the child has said using the child’s own words as best you can and any behaviours.
  • Act immediately in the best interests of the child to prevent further abuse to that child and to circumvent possible abuse to other children.
  • Seek advice or report the disclosure. Call crisis care on (08) 9223 1111 or 1800 199 008 (country free call), the police or Allambee counselling for further information or advice.

Inappropriate or harmful sexual behaviours by a child

There is no one cause for a child or young person to develop inappropriate sexual behaviours. The child and the family context are unique and need to be understood and supported. Contributing factors may include:

  • The experience of emotional, sexual or physical abuse.
  • Exposure to physical or emotional violence at home.
  • Exposure to age inappropriate sexually explicit material. For example pornography or adult sexual interactions.
  • An impulsive act or expressing emotions inappropriately.
  • The experience of something that has disrupted their wellbeing.
Counselling child sexual abuse allambee

Importantly, seek professional advice with Allambee Counselling, as support can make a difference.

Protecting children against sexual abuse

  • Teach children the proper names of private parts and include the mouth as they only kiss certain people.
  • Teach children that no one is allowed to touch private parts unless they are sick or sore and mum or dad takes them to the doctor for help or for little babies who can’t clean themselves.
  • Teach children they can say ‘NO’ to any adult or older child if asked to do something that makes them feel scared or involves private parts and to ‘WALK AWAY’ and ‘TELL SOMEONE’.
  • Tell children they will not be in trouble if they didn’t say ‘NO’.
  • Tell children to ‘keep telling’ till they get help.
  • Engage children in everyday conversation about their likes/dislikes and to identifying their feelings.
  • Teach boys it’s ok to feel unsafe, scared, worried.
  • Develop a safety network with the child of 5 adults who they see and can talk to for help or support. Three of these adults should be people outside of the family home.
  • Give children the Kids Helpline http://www.kidshelp.com.au or phone 1800 55 1800.
  • Teach children that kids don’t keep secrets unless it’s a surprise birthday party or something similar.
  • Enrol in a Protective Behaviours program that provides knowledge and skills to parents and children to increase protection against child sexual abuse.