About child sexual abuse

This factsheet explains what child sexual abuse is and how it can affect you. If you are a child or young person who has been sexually abused, or an adult who was sexually abused as a child, there is support available for you.

What is child sexual abuse?

When we talk about child sexual abuse, we mean sexual abuse that happens to anyone under the age of 18.

Child sexual abuse is any act where a child is exposed to sexual activity with an adult or someone older than them, sexual activity that they don’t or can’t understand, or sexual activity that they can’t consent to. It can include:

  • touching, grabbing or kissing your body, including through your clothes
  • rape (penetration of the anus, vagina or mouth with a finger, penis or object)
  • being forced to watch or engage in pornography, including being made to pose for photographs or videos
  • being made to perform sexual acts, including stimulating another person or masturbating
  • another person showing you their genitals
  • another person making sexual comments

This list is not exhaustive. It is common to feel confused about what has happened to you and seeking specialist support or talking to a trusted person can be helpful.

Child sexual abuse can be carried out by a stranger, but it is more often done by someone the child knows, such as a friend, family member, or a trusted adult.

It’s important to remember that child sexual abuse is never the fault of the child.

Children and young people have the right to feel safe, and to make decisions about their own body. Child sexual abuse is an abuse of power. No child deserves to be sexually abused. A person who commits child sexual abuse is responsible for their own behaviour.

How common is child sexual abuse?  

One in 3 girls and one in 5 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.

96% of abusers are people known to the child, with only 4% of abuse carried out by strangers. 99% of convicted child sexual abusers are male.

What is the impact of child sexual abuse?

Every survivor reacts differently to child sexual abuse. There is no one ‘normal’ response. There is no right or wrong way to feel, think or behave.

Children who have been affected by childhood sexual abuse may display a range of emotional and behavioural reactions, including: trouble sleeping, bad dreams or bedwetting; changes in hygiene; quiet or withdrawn behaviour; anger or aggression; anxiety or depression; changes in eating habits; alcohol or drug use; fear of certain people or places; using sexual language or behaviours that are not usual for their age; clinginess; pain or physical discomfort; feeling spaced out.

Adults who were affected by sexual abuse as children can also be impacted in a range of ways, and these might change over the course of their life. Impacts can include mental health issues, anxiety and depression, alcohol and substance abuse, eating disorders, sleep disruption and insomnia, self-blame and low self-esteem.

When a child has been sexually abused, it is also traumatic for their parents, carers and wider family. You don’t have to go through this alone either. Support is available.

Victim survivor testimonial

“It is so powerful to be heard and to have my pain heard after standing in silence for so long. To be heard by someone with empathy, a specialist understanding of trauma who can show me that I am actually surviving, is like being carried safely for just a brief part of the day. It’s enough to be able to help me gather my hope, uncover my resources and find the strength I forged in my childhood to keep going and to keep walking towards the freedom I’ve always wanted.” - Anonymous

Where to get more information?

Talking about child sexual abuse can be hard and uncomfortable. Asking for help if you have been affected by child sexual abuse is a very brave thing to do.

If you have been affected by child sexual abuse, please know that you are not alone. There are options and support available to you.

The Australian Childhood Foundation (www.childhood.org.au) is a great source of information about child sexual abuse. You might find it helpful to look at the pages on children’s own art and stories and understanding of impact and hope.

The Blue Knot Foundation (www.blueknot.org.au) run a helpline for adult survivors of complex trauma, including child sexual abuse. Find details of the Blue Knot Helpline here. Blue Knot have also talked to many survivors and have excellent advice on making the decision about whether, when and with who to share your story

SAMSN - Supporting Male Survivors of Child
Sexual Abuse (www.samsn.org.au) is an organisation that specialises in support for male survivors of child sexual abuse and their supporters. Their website has helpful information for male survivors, their families, and others that support them.  Male survivors can also access local support from Laurel House and SASS (see below in Local support and information).

Reaching out for support can be an important way to help you work through the trauma you have experienced.   Healing is possible and everyone does this in their own way and at their own pace. Despite your trauma, you also have your own resources and strengths that can also help you recover from the impacts of sexual violence.

Child sexual abuse

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