What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse occurs when a child is used by an older person in a sexual way. It includes a range of behaviours from voyeurism, to the sexual touching of genitals, to sexual intercourse. Sexual abuse may be a one off incident, or may happen many times over a period of months, or even years.
Sexual abuse usually involves the use of trickery, manipulation, threats, and sometimes force. Children’s natural innocence and trust make them very vulnerable to abuse. Moreover, they are often emotionally and physically dependent on the person abusing them. Because of this, children are easily persuaded to keep the abuse a secret.
How can I keep my child safe from sexual abuse?
All parents need to teach personal safety skills to their children, just as we teach them water safety, fire safety, and traffic safety. It can be difficult to know how and when to begin talking to children about sexual safety. However, children who have been specifically warned about sexual abuse and who have a plan of action to call upon if they find themselves in a potentially abusive situation are less likely to be victimised.
Things you can teach your child include:
- Safe/loving touching vs. unsafe/yukky touching
Good/safe/loving touches are the way we express affection, reassurance and love for one another. They make us feel nice, warm and loved. A bad/unsafe/yukky touch makes us feel uncomfortable and confused.
Bad touches include:
- Tickles that wont stop
- Touching on your private parts
- Being made to touch some else’s private parts
- The importance of feelings
Children need to learn to identify and understand the different feelings that they have. Teach children to trust their own feelings and act upon them. Recognising feelings that indicate that something is not right or comfortable can help children resist uncomfortable touches.
- Different kinds of secrets
The sexual abuse of children relies heavily on children keeping secrets. Children need to learn that not all secrets are good, and that they shouldn’t keep any secrets that hurt, frighten, worry or confuse them. It can be a good idea to distinguish between a surprise (a ‘nice secret’) and a yuckky secret.
- Developing a keeping safe plan
Teach children they have the right to be assertive and say “NO” to people if they want to or when they get uncomfortable feelings. You may want to practice with your child things they can do if they feel uncomfortable about someone touching themKeeping the safe plan:
- Yell “No!”
- Run away
- Tell a safe person
- Identifying safe, supportive people
Talk to your child about the safe people in their lives, with whom they can talk about their worries. Creating a family atmosphere of acceptance, and openness can help your child feel supported and safe, as children are more likely to share their problems with people whom they know will listen to them.
If you would like more information about how to protect your child from sexual abuse, RPE recommends the booklet Ending Offending Together. Click here to download it. Please be patient, it may take a minute to download.
When does children’s ‘sexual play’ become sexual abuse?
Children often engage in sexual play with one another (eg. in games such as ‘Doctors and Nurses’). Children involved in such explorations are usually of a similar age and developmental level, and participate in the games voluntarily. Child sex play such as this is light-hearted and does not hurt or upset either child.
Sexual experiences between children becomes abusive if:
- The relationship between the children is not equal, and one child has power over the other child
- It hurts, frightens, or upsets one or both children
- One child uses force, threats, bribery etc to get the other child to participate
- One child is bigger, older or more developmentally advanced than the other
If you are seeking information about what to do if your child has been sexually offended against, Rape Prevention Education produces a range of helpful pamphlets that can be downloaded from the resources page.
If you are concerned or worried about sexual experiences between children, or would like more information, contact your nearest sexual assault agency.
Rape Prevention Education would like to acknowledge the authors Caroline Witten-Hannah and Beth Parker, whose books on child sexual abuse have provided invaluable information for this page.