Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is defined as 'forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, although not necessarily involving a high level of violence or the child being aware of what is happening'.

For some children the effect of sexual abuse may be relatively short–term depending on the individual child, the nature of the abuse and the help they receive. However, for many the effects continue into adulthood and cause a long list of issues, particularly mental health problems and drug or alcohol misuse.

Forms of sexual abuse include:

  • Assault by penetration, including rape or penetration of the mouth with an object or part of the body
  • Sexual touching of any part of the body, clothed or unclothed, including using an object
  • Encouraging a child to engage in sexual activity, including sexual acts with someone else, or making a child strip or masturbate
  • Intentionally engaging in sexual activity in front of a child or not taking proper measures to prevent a child from being exposed to sexual activity by others
  • Meeting a child following sexual 'grooming', or preparation, with the intention of abusing them
  • Taking, making, permitting to take, distributing, showing or advertising indecent images of children
  • Paying for the sexual services of a child or encouraging them into prostitution or pornography
  • Showing a child images of sexual activity including photographs, videos or via webcams

Sexual abuse can be very difficult to identify but warning signs that a child is being abused can include:

  • Trying to tell you about abuse through hints or clues
  • Describing behaviour by an adult that suggests they are being 'groomed' for future abuse
  • Inappropriate bed–sharing arrangements at home
  • Negative thoughts, thinking badly about themselves
  • Obsessive behaviours including eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia)
  • Becoming withdrawn, anxious or clingy
  • Depressed
  • Suddenly starting to behave differently
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Risk–taking behaviour during adolescence
  • Problems with school or missing school
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Avoiding being alone with a particular adult
  • Fearful of an adult or reluctant to socialise with them

Sexually inappropriate behaviour can include:

  • Use of sexual language or information that you would not expect them to know including activity through words, play or drawing
  • A preoccupation with anything sexual
  • Being sexually provocative or seductive with adults
  • Becoming sexually active at a young age
  • Promiscuity
  • Anal or vaginal soreness
  • An unusual discharge
  • Pregnancy
  • Not looking after themselves
  • Sleep problems including loss of sleep, disturbance due to fears, phobias, vivid dreams or nightmares which sometimes have overt or veiled sexual connotations
  • Bed–wetting or soiling
  • Torn, stained or bloody underwear
  • Bruising
  • Medical issues including repeated urinary infections, unexplained stomach pain or sexually transmitted diseases

You should also be alert to any adults who pay an unusual amount of attention to a child, for example:

  • Giving a child gifts, toys or favours
  • Offering to take a child on trips, outings and holidays
  • Seeking opportunities to be alone with a child

For more information and advice about dealing with sexual behaviour of children and teenagers visit the NSPCC website.

If any of these signs are familiar, see who can help here.

Search Cambridgeshire Constabulary