Child sexual abuse (CSA) is any form of abuse which happens to someone under the age of 18. This might be happening now, or in the past. This includes child sexual exploitation (CSE) and ‘peer on peer’ abuse. Child abuse is never the fault of a survivor.
What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse does not always involve touching, and could be any of these things:
- Being cuddled or kissed in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Explicit sexual talk.
- Having to view pornography – images of a sexual nature.
- Having to pose for photographs of a sexual nature.
- Being touched somewhere you don’t want to be touched in a sexual way.
- Lack of privacy to bathe or undress, or being bathed or dressed in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Having to masturbate.
- Having something put into your vagina or anus – this could be a penis, finger or and object.
- Having to perform oral sex, or having it performed on you.
- Having to look at or touch other people’s genitals (adults or children).
Who commits child sexual abuse?
In most cases, it is a known and trusted adult who commits the abuse. The vast majority of abusers are men, but anyone can be responsible. It could be your mum or dad, another relative, or someone at school. Around one third of child sexual abuse is ‘peer on peer’ abuse, this means the perpetrator is someone who is of a similar age to survivor (this can include other children).
Is it difficult to talk about?
Many children and young people do not tell anyone about the abuse. This can be for many reasons, for example:
- Threats of further violence or abuse.
- Fear of not being believed (often because the abuser has said this).
- Feelings of guilt, or shame (often because the abuser has said this).
- Not being able to describe or explain what has happened.
- Wanting to protect family, or even the abuser.
- Being told that someone they care about will be hurt if they tell.
- Being told that they will go to prison if they tell someone (this is not true).
- Not knowing who to tell.
I feel like I am to blame
It is important to remember that no matter what the abuser says, no one is ever responsible for the abuse or violence they experience.
Experiencing sexual abuse as a child or young person can be very traumatic – it does not matter whether it happened once, a few times, or every day for a period of time. If it has happened to you, whether it was yesterday or many years ago, your feelings about what happened to you are important and you have the right to be listened to, whatever you want to say. If it is difficult to talk about calling a rape crisis centre can be a good place to start. You will be in control of the conversation and can decide how much information to give about yourself and about what happened. Find out more about OSARCC’s services.
Feelings and impacts of child sexual abuse
You may not remember the abuse that happened. Forgetting or minimising memories can be a way to cope with the pain and trauma. Children and young people being abused are often not allowed to express anger or pain in order to deal with what is happening to them and facing their pain alone can be unbearable. Many people therefore suppress their feelings and repress their memories of the abuse. On the other hand, you might be able to remember the abuse in vivid detail, which can be very painful and intrusive. However much or little you remember about what happened to you, your feelings and memories are valid.
Nightmares and flashbacks are some common ways in which memories of abuse can come to the surface, and you can read more about them on our page about ‘flashbacks’.
People who have experienced sexual abuse as a child or young person may also feel recurrent depression or anxiety, and may also suffer from panic attacks and phobias. There is more information about this on our page about feelings and mental health.
What is the difference between child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation?
Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of child sexual abuse (CSA).
Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is defined in the UK by the Department of Education as follows:
‘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.’