Recognise Child Abuse

Look for these signs

What is considered 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.

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.

Warning signs in children and adolescents of possible child sexual abuse

Children often show us rather than tell us that something is upsetting them. There may be many reasons for changes in their behaviour, but if we notice a combination of worrying signs it may be time to call for help or advice.

What to watch out for in children:

  • Acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects
  • Nightmares, sleeping problems
  • Becoming withdrawn or very clingy
  • Becoming unusually secretive
  • Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings and seeming insecure
  • Regressing to younger behaviours, e.g. bedwetting
  • Unaccountable fear of particular places or people
  • Outburst of anger
  • Changes in eating habits
  • New adult words for body parts and no obvious source
  • Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts
  • Self-harm (cutting, burning or other harmful activities)
  • Physical signs, such as, unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals or mouth, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy
  • Running away
  • Not wanting to be alone with a particular child or adult

Any one of these signs doesn't mean that a child was or is being sexually abused, but the presence of several suggests that you should begin to ask questions and consider seeking help.

Abuse in the home, school, youth club or church

You are most likely to be abused by someone you know.

The police understand this, so do the help lines.

It can be a member of your own family, a family friend, a teacher, a babysitter, your mates big brother or sister, your priest, or your youth club leader.

Adults who want to abuse children try very hard to get a job where they can work with children and make the child trust them.

They will be very understanding, know and talk about the things you like, be very friendly to you, usually suggest that you don't tell any other adults about your "Special Friendship"

This is called Grooming and is against the law.

Abuse over the Internet

This usually starts with an adult starting or joining in a conversation on topics the child cares about.

The paedophile will soon try to persuade the child to go to a private chat room where they can talk in private.

The topics of conversation will be the Childs favourite music, bands, books, TV programmes, computer games etc.. The adult will research the topics the child is interested in so that they will appear to the child to be as big a fan as they are.

What happens next will depend on how pliant (and often lonely) the child is.

At some point the adult will admit to being "A bit older" than the child, but the child will often ignore this as the person they are talking to understands them, their likes and dislikes and does not judge them or tell them off like their parents do.

After talking for a period of time the adult will ask to exchange photographs - they will send back a photograph.

Gradually the adult will discuss meeting up and maybe even discuss having sex.

By this point the child is usually compliant to their friend and will go along with what is suggested.

This process is called "GROOMING" and is a criminal offence in the UK.


The act of an adult or other potential abuser befriending a child by appearing to be more caring and understanding than the child's peers or parents.

The person grooming the child will spend months working to convince the child that they are the only person who really understands and cares about them.

Make sure that you know who all your child's friends are, and that your child is never alone with an adult or other child that you have any doubts about.

More Help

Visit this site for lots more detailed help on recognising child abuse: