Child Sexual Abuse

What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse (CSA) is when a child is forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities.

Working Together 2018 defines sexual abuse as:

Involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse Sexual abuse can take place online, and technology can be used to facilitate offline abuse. Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.


Sexual abuse is usually hidden from view. Children and young people may not always understand that they are being sexually abused, they may be too young, too scared or too ashamed to tell anyone what is happening to them.
However, there are a number of different sources of information which help us to build up a picture of the scale of abuse. This includes data from services which work with children and research into children’s and adults’ self-reported experiences of abuse. Research with 2,275 young people aged 11-17 about their experiences of sexual abuse suggests around 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused.
Concerns around sexual abuse have been identified for over 2,700 children in the UK who are the subject of a child protection plan.
•Over a third of all police-recorded sexual offences are against children.
• Girls and older children are more likely to experience sexual abuse.
• The vast majority of children who experience sexual abuse were abused by someone they know.

Types of sexual abuse

Contact abuse
Contact abuse involves activities where an abuser makes physical contact with a child. It includes:
sexual touching of any part of the body, whether the child is wearing clothes or not
forcing or encouraging a child to take part in sexual activity making a child take their clothes off or touch someone else’s genitals rape or penetration by putting an object or body part inside a child’s mouth, vagina or anus.

Non-contact abuse
Non-contact abuse involves activities where there is no physical contact. It includes:
flashing at a child encouraging or forcing a child to watch or hear sexual acts
not taking proper measures to prevent a child being exposed to sexual activities by others
making a child masturbate while others watch persuading a child to make, view or distribute child abuse images (such as performing sexual acts over the internet, sexting or showing pornography to a child) making, viewing or distributing child abuse images
allowing someone else to make, view or distribute child abuse images
meeting a child following grooming with the intent of abusing them (even if abuse did not take place) sexually exploiting a child for money, power or status (child sexual exploitation).

Child Exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology. To read more about Child Sexual Exploitation click here.

Intra-familial sexual abuse

Intra-familial child sexual abuse refers to child sexual abuse (CSA) that occurs within a family environment. Whilst there is no single agreed definition of intra-familial CSA, it is generally recognised that, in addition to abuse by a relative (such as a parent, sibling or uncle), it may include abuse by someone close to the child in other ways (such as a step-parent, a close family friend or a babysitter). This understanding is in accordance with Crown Prosecution Service guidelines on the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which state:
These offences reflect the modern family unit and take account of situations where someone is living within the same household as a child and assuming a position of trust or authority over that child, as well as relationships defined by blood ties, adoption, fostering, marriage or living together as partners.

The key consideration is whether the abuser feels like family from the child’s point of view.
Around two-thirds of all CSA reported to the police is perpetrated by a family member or someone close to the child. Research has shown that whilst the vast majority of perpetrators are male, abuse by women does occur. In around a quarter of cases, the perpetrator is under the age of 18. Much abuse in the family remains undisclosed and is rarely an isolated occurrence, often going on for many years.

Abuse by a family member may be particularly traumatic because it involves high levels of betrayal, stigma and secrecy. Children may fear their abuser, not want their abuser to get into trouble, feel that the abuse was ‘their fault’, and feel responsible for what will happen to their family if they tell. Disabled children and some black, Asian and minority ethnic children face additional barriers.

Impact of intra-familial abuse

CSA in the family is linked to a range of negative outcomes over the whole of the life course, including poorer physical and mental health, lower income, relationship difficulties and further violence and abuse.
The longer-term impact of the abuse will often depend on the nature and duration of the abuse, the individual’s coping mechanisms, and the support they receive. Supportive responses from non-abusing carers are particularly important.
From a professionals point of view, effective support is critical to enable disclosure, but also during investigation and legal proceedings. Therapeutic support for young people can have a positive impact. It is important to provide support to the whole family, and particularly to non-abusing parents, following abuse.

Click on the link below to watch an NSPCC video of children talking about their experiences of abuse and speaking out.


Developed and funded by the Department of Health, the Seen and Heard Sexual Abuse course is narrated by young people, sharing real experiences about what it’s like to be an abused or exploited child with ‘something to tell’. To access this free learning module click on the link below:

Further resources

Developed and funded by the Department of Health, the Seen and Heard course is narrated by young people, sharing real experiences about what it’s like to be an abused or exploited child with ‘something to tell’. To access this free learning module click on the link below:

For more information about the WSCP policies and processes regarding CSA click on the links below

For resources for working with children who may be subject to CSE/sexual abuse click on the link for the social workers toolbox:

For additional support and links for parents/carers and children:


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