​Sexual abuse of a child occurs when someone touches the private parts of a child’s body without a health or hygiene reason. It can include kissing or having oral, anal or vaginal sex. Sexual abuse can happen to both girls and boys.

The abuser can be a stranger or someone they know. Most times, it is someone the child knows – like a relative, neighbour or family friend.

Sexual abuse also does not necessarily involve bodily contact.  Showing private parts or ‘flashing’ to children, forcing children to view pornographic images and exploiting children for prostitution or pornography are all considered serious criminal forms of sexual abuse.

How to tell when something is wrong

It is often not easy to tell whether a child has been sexually abused. Sexual abuse usually happens in secret, and the child may not report it out of fear, confusion or anger. Some young children may not even realise it is wrong. That is why child sexual abuse often goes undetected.

Effects of child sexual abuse

When a child has been sexually abused, the tell-tale signs range from being anxious, fearful, angry, rebellious or withdrawn. Older children may attempt to hurt themselves. Sexual abuse is a confusing, painful and confusing experience for children.

If left untreated, long-term symptoms will manifest in adulthood. These include:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Depression and suicidal thoughts

  • Sexual anxiety and disorders

  • Relationship problems

  • Poor body image and low self-esteem

  • Addiction to alcohol and drugs, self-mutilation and eating disorders

These unhealthy behaviours are often used to mask the painful emotions associated with sexual abuse.

Keeping your child safe

One of the best forms of protection is to instill awareness and teach your child how to protect him or herself.

  • Talk to your child about the difference between good touching and bad touching. Show how a good touch feels warm and comfortable and a bad touch feels forced and uncomfortable.

  • Tell your child that his or her body is private and he or she has the right to say ‘no’ if a grown-up touches him or her in a way that makes him or her feels uncomfortable.

  • Stress to your child that if an older person tries to touch the private parts or asks the child to touch the person’s private parts, he or she should say ‘no’ to the person.

  • Let your child know that he or she does not always have to obey everything an adult tells him or her to do. This includes family members. Tell your child “It is wrong if a grown-up asks you to lie or steal. Just as it is wrong if a grown-up touches you or asks you to touch his or her private parts.”

  • Tell your child he or she should not afraid to alert you if any of these events happen to him or her.

What to do if your child has been sexually abused

Stay calm and reassure your child that you believe him or her and that what happened is not his or her fault. Then take your child to a healthcare professional or hospital right away for a health check. You may also want to make a police report. With treatment and more importantly love and support from parents, a child can recover from the trauma and go on to lead a normal life.