What is child sexual abuse?

If you're a victim of child sexual abuse, know that it’s never your fault. The Mix spoke to Catherine Kenny from the NSPCC to find out what child sexual abuse is and how you can stop it.

side profile of girl looking worried

It's never your fault.

What is it?

Child sexual abuse is when an adult forces, tricks or persuades someone under 18 to do something sexual with them. For example:

  • Touching you when you haven’t said it’s ok – maybe on your genitals.
  • Having sex with you or getting you to touch them.
  • Getting you to look at sexual pictures or pictures of naked people.
  • Showing you their genitals (it’s still abuse if they do this online).
  • Getting you to take off your clothes or taking off your clothes when you don’t want them to.
  • Getting you to kiss or touch other people.
  • Taking pictures of you or getting you to send pictures of yourself without your clothes on.

If an adult is bullying you in a sexual way, this is abuse too.

Is it sexual abuse if they’re my family?

Yes it’s still abuse. It doesn’t matter if they’re a family member, a friend, a teacher or anyone else.

They don’t force me to do any of the things you’ve said – but they make me feel weird and uncomfortable. What’s going on?

Sometimes abusers will spend a long time making friends with you and getting your trust. This is called grooming. It can happen online too.

They might:

  • Buy you presents.
  • Try and get close to you and touch you ‘accidentally’ in ways you don’t like.
  • Comment on your body or call you inappropriate names.
  • Ask you to keep things secret.
  • Put pressure on you to do things and get cross or upset if you say no.

If an adult is making you feel weird or uncomfortable, it’s best to tell someone. Call Childline – an advisor can help you work out what to do.

I think I am being abused, what should I do?

It’s not always easy to tell what’s going on. If the abuse happens a lot, or the adult has told you they’re doing nothing wrong, you might not have realised there’s a problem. But if a grownup is doing any of the things we’ve listed above, then it probably is abuse.

Catherine Kenny from Childline says: “Sexual abuse is one of the hardest things to talk about. It can make you feel afraid, isolated or ashamed. But it’s never your fault. There are people who can help you.”

  • Talk to an adult you trust. Choose a time when you won’t be disturbed. If you think you will find it difficult to find the right words, you could write things down in a letter and give it to them.
  • Think about what you want to happen next and tell the adult at the same time. But don’t worry if you’re not sure – telling someone is the most important step.
  • Talk to Childline. This page has more info about what it’s like to talk to them.

What if no one believes me?

Your abuser might have told you to keep things secret, or said nobody will believe you. But this isn’t true. Abusers say this so they can keep hurting you.

Teachers, doctors, youth workers and people from places like The Mix and Childline will always take you seriously and support you.

But what if I don’t want to get them into trouble?

If you feel close to the person abusing you, you might feel guilty about getting them into trouble. But they want you to feel this way so you don’t tell anyone.

What they are doing is wrong. They are being selfish and thinking about what they want and not what is best for you.

You deserve to live without abuse. Try and tell someone if you can.

I think I was abused when I younger – what can I do?

It’s never too late to tell someone. It can help you get the support you deserve – and make sure that the abuser does not harm other children in the future. If you are under 18 you can still get help from Childline.

If you’re over 18, you could call the National Association for People Abused in Childhood.

Next Steps

  • You can talk to Childline about anything. Call them for free on 0800 1111 or visit their website.
  • Rape Crisis offers support and advice to victims of rape and sexual assault, no matter how long ago the attack was. 0808 802 99 99
  • The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) will support you whenever you need them, regardless of when the abuse occurred. Call them for free on 0808 801 0331.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.



By Clare Foster

Updated on 28-Feb-2017