Learning LIST-Learning

What is childhood sexual abuse

A variety of definitions exist for what constitutes childhood sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse occurs when an adult, or a more powerful adolescent or child, uses his or her power and influence to involve a child in sexual activity. The child may not comprehend or understand the implication of the sexual act. Their compliance may be brought about by misinformation, fear and manipulation, and a power imbalance related to age, intellectual ability, experience, status, or authority.

The involvement in sexualised behaviour can be direct or indirect. Sexual abuse can be physical, verbal or emotional, and can include:

  • Kissing or holding a child in a sexual manner.
  • ‘Flashing’ or exposing a sexual body part to a child.
  • Speaking to children about sexual matters.
  • Making obscene phone calls or remarks to a child or young person.
  • Sending obscene emails or text messages to a child or young person.
  • Fondling a child or young person’s body in a sexual manner.
  • Persistent intrusion of a child’s privacy.
  • Penetration of the vagina or anus of a child or young person.
  • Oral sexual behaviour.
  • Rape.
  • Incest.
  • Showing pornographic films, magazines or photographs to a child.
  • Having a child pose or perform in a sexual manner.
  • Forcing a child to watch a sexual act.
  • Child prostitution.

Secrecy, misuse of power, and the distortion of adult-child relationships are key factors in the sexual abuse of children. This means that regardless of the child or young person’s behaviour, prior to, during, or after the abuse: It is not their fault.