What is child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse is when a person uses power or authority over a child to involve them in sexual activity.

This can include a wide range of physical and non-contact sexual activity

Physical sexual contact:

  • kissing of fondling a child in a sexual way
  • masturbation
  • fondling the child's genitals
  • oral sex
  • vaginal or anal penetration by a penis., finger or other object
  • exposure of the child to pornography.

Non-contact offences:

  • talking to a child in a sexually explicit way
  • sending sexual messages or emails to a child
  • exposing a sexual body part to a child
  • forcing a child to watch a sexual act including showing pornography to a child
  • having a child pose or perform in a sexual manner (including child sexual exploitation)
  • grooming or manipulation.

Child sexual abuse does not always involve force. In some circumstances a child may be manipulated into believing that they have brought the abuse on themselves, or that the abuse is an expression of love through a process of grooming.

What is child sexual exploitation?

Child sexual exploitation is also a form of sexual abuse where offenders use their power, (physical, financial or emotional) over a child to sexually or emotionally abuse them.

It often involves situations and relationships where young people receive something (food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) in return for participating in sexual activities.

Child sexual exploitation can occur in person or online, and sometimes the child may not even realise they are a victim.

Who is most at risk of child sexual abuse?

Any child can be victim of sexual abuse, however children who are vulnerable, isolated and/or have a disability are disproportionately abused and are much more likely to become victim.

What are the physical indicators of child sexual abuse?

Physical Indicators of sexual abuse may include (but are not limited to):

  • injury to the genital or rectal area,(bruising, bleeding, discharge, inflammation or infection)
  • injury to areas of the body such as breasts, buttocks or upper thighs
  • discomfort in urinating or defecating
  • presence of foreign bodies in the vagina and/or rectum
  • sexually-transmitted infections
  • frequent urinary tract infections.

What are the behavioural indicator​s of child sexual abuse?

The behavioural indicators of sexual abuse may be, but are not limited to in an infant or toddler:

  • self-stimulatory behaviours, for example, rocking, head banging
  • crying excessively or not at all
  • listless and immobile and/or emancipated and pale
  • exhibits significant delays in gross motor development and coordination.

In all children, infants and toddlers:

  • disclosure of sexual abuse, (by child, friend, family member)
  • drawings or descriptions of stories that are sexually explicit and not age-appropriate
  • persistent and age-inappropriate sexual activity, (excessive masturbation or rubbing genitals against adults)
  • wariness or fear of a parent, carer or guardian and reluctance to go home
  • unusual fear of physical contact with adults
  • change in sleeping patterns, fear of the dark or nightmares and regressive behaviour such as bed-wetting
  • wearing clothes unsuitable for weather conditions to hide injuries
  • unusually nervous, hyperactive, aggressive, disruptive and destructive to self and/or others
  • exhibits significant delays in gross and fine motor development and coordination
  • overly compliant, shy, withdrawn, passive and uncommunicative
  • fear of home, specific places or particular adults
  • poor self-care or personal hygiene
  • complaining of headaches, stomach pains or nausea without physiological basis.

Further information about age appropriate sexual behaviour is available on DHHS website

How can I identify perpetrators of child sexual abuse?

In addition to identifying the physical and behavioural signs of sexual abuse within children, you can play a critical role in identifying signs that a staff member or member of the community may be engaging in child sexual abuse, or grooming a child for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity.

Most critically you must follow the four critical actions if you:

  • feel uncomfortable about the way an adult interacts with a child/children
  • suspect that the adult may be engaging in sexual abuse of a child/children
  • suspect that the adult is grooming the child/children for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity
  • reasonably believe that the adult is at risk of engaging in sexual behaviour with a child/children.

You must report suspected child sexual abuse, or risk of abuse regardless of any concerns about the risk to the reputation of the suspected perpetrator or service. Your report could prove critical to protecting children in your care, and a failure to report can result in criminal charges.

Who are the common perpetrators of child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse is most commonly perpetrated by someone who is known to, and trusted by the child (and often someone highly trusted within their family, communities, schools and/or other institutions). See advice on identifying perpetrators of child sexual abuse below.

Perpetrators can include (but are not limited to):

  • a family member (this is known as intra family abuse and can include sibling abuse)
  • a staff member, coach or other carer
  • a peer/child 10 years or more in age
  • a family friend or stranger
  • a person via a forced marriage (where a child is subject to a marriage without their consent, arranged for by their immediate or extended family- this constitutes a criminal offence and must be reported).

Unwanted sexual behaviour toward a child by a child 10 years or over can constitute a sexual offence.

What are the behavioural indicators for perpetrators?

In many cases the signs that an adult is sexually abusing or grooming a child with the intent of sexually abusing them may not be obvious. However there are a number of signs to look for.

Behaviour indicators for perpetrators of child sexual abuse include (but are not limited to) the following people.

Family member:

  • attempts by one parent to alienate their child from the other parent
  • overprotective or volatile relationship between the child and one of their parents/family members
  • reluctance by the child to be alone with one of their parents/family members.

Service staff member, contractor, volunteer, coach or other carer with any child:

  • touching a child inappropriately
  • obvious or inappropriate preferential treatment of the child, making them feel special
  • inappropriately befriending the parents and making visits to their home and offering to drive a child to or from the service
  • giving of gifts to the child
  • undermining the child's reputation, so that the child won't be believed.

With older children:

  • bringing up sexual material or personal disclosures into conversations
  • inappropriate contact (calls, emails, texts, social media)
  • having inappropriate social boundaries, (telling the potential victims about their own personal problems)