What is sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse of children may include sexual touching, masturbation, intercourse, indecent exposure, use of children in or showing children pornographic films or pictures, encouraging or forcing children into prostitution or encouraging or forcing children to witness sexual acts. Children and young people of all ages can be victims of abuse.
Most sexual abuse of children is carried out by someone they know
Children are more likely to be sexually abused by someone they know, including relatives and family friends, than by a stranger. Children may have confused feelings if they’re being abused by someone they trust. They may not realise that what is being done to them is abuse.
What kind of people sexually abuse children?
Child sex abusers can come from any social, racial or religious background and may be well-respected members of society. Those who abuse children in families include fathers, stepfathers, live-in partners, brothers, uncles, male cousins, grandfathers, father figures and family friends. Occasionally they may be the mother or female relative. Those who abuse children in one family may also abuse children in other families.
An abuser may target girls or boys or prefer children of a particular age. Child sex abusers often appear kind, concerned and caring towards children in order to build close relationships with them. They may observe a child and spend a long time building up the ‘friendship’. They may form a relationship with a single parent in order to get access to children.
They may spend a lot of time building the relationship before the abuse begins. This often results in the child trusting and becoming dependent on them. This is called grooming. The abuser may seem to be a safe and reassuring figure. He may also convince himself that he is doing no harm to children.
The child becomes more dependent on the abuser and in order to keep the abuse secret the abuser will use the child’s natural fear, embarrassment or guilt about what is happening. A child who talks and shares feelings with parents and others is less likely to become dependent on a single abusing adult.
How can I keep my child safe?
- Build open and trusting relationships with your children
- Keep an eye on any changes in your child’s behaviour
- Make sure your child understands about sex
- Talk to your children about sexual matters when they start to show an interest
- Explain the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ secret
Sexual behaviour between children can become abusive. Seek advice if you are worried You can phone the NCC on: 22 43 90 or telephone the CHILD HELPLINE
How will I know if my child is being abused?
When abuse is discovered, parents often say there were no obvious signs to make them suspect their child was being abused, even when the abuser was their partner. However, although the following behaviour does not necessarily indicate abuse, sometimes a child who is being abused will:
- Start to show fear or avoid being alone with a particular person
- Appear unusually clingy or show other changes in their behaviour
- Talk about secrets or ask anxious questions
- Describe possible grooming behaviour by an adult
- Display sexually precocious behaviour
- Appear depressed or withdrawn
What should I do if I’m worried?
- Talk to your child
- Be reassuring - tell them that you love them and nothing will change that
- Allow your child to tell you their story in their own way without interrupting with lots of questions
- Believe your child
- Tell them that they have done the right thing in telling you
- Tell them that what happened was not their fault
- You need to share your concerns: Telephone the NCC ON TEL: 224390
Could my family be broken up and my children taken away from me?
In most cases it is the abuser, rather than the child, who is removed from the family home. This will depend on whether a criminal charge is brought against the abuser and there is a conviction, or if the court decides that your child needs to be in care. Priority must be given to your child’s long-term safety and well being.
How should I react if my child tells me that he or she has been abused?
- Your child needs to know that he or she is not to blame
- Make it clear that you believe what he or she says
- Allow your child to talk about what has happened, but don’t force him or her to do so
- Tell your child that he or she has done the right thing in telling you. Don’t blame him or her if the abuse occurred because he or she disobeyed your instructions. (For example, going out without permission)
- You may feel very confused, particularly if the abuser is a relative. You may want help in coping with powerful and conflicting emotions about the abuse. These could include shock, anger, disbelief, self-blame and fear.
What should I do?
- Be careful about confronting the person yourself. They may try to silence, threaten or confuse your child. You should get advice before you take any action.
- Call the NCC OR SOCIAL SERVICES HELPLINE . In an emergency, call the police or the family squad on telephone Number: 280000
Your well-being is very important to us. If you are being sexually abused or just curious about what sexual abuse is all about, if you want to speak to someone qualified to help, this number will be of assistance : Telephone 224390