General information

How should I respond to a disclosure of child sexual abuse?

See Disclosures.

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What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse occurs when someone uses their power or authority to involve a child in sexual activity. Child sexual abuse can be physical, verbal and/or emotional (Queensland Government 2011). The Orbit program teaches that there are touching and non-touching forms of child sexual abuse and these can include:

The private parts of the body are:

The Orbit program teaches that there may be times when an adult will need to look at our touch a child’s private parts, and these include when:

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Why is child sexual abuse wrong?

Children do not have an adult’s understanding of sex and sexual relations, therefore children cannot give informed consent. Informed consent can only be given if a child can really understand what they are consenting to. Developmentally, children are not able to decide this and when this is decided for them (in abuse scenarios) it causes harm. In addition, children do not understand the social meaning of sexuality and its potential consequences (SNAICC 2007). Therefore child sexual abuse can never be the fault of the child because they are unable to consent.

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Why are children at risk of sexual abuse from adults?

Children rely on adults and the adult world for care. Therefore a natural power imbalance exists between children and adults. Children’s level of cognitive and emotional development does not allow children to make informed choices about sex and sexual activities. Children’s physical development increases their risk of sexual abuse because they could never overpower an adult wanting to abuse them. Children are taught to obey adults and will often trust without question. This innocence and their belief in adults are what make them vulnerable.

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Which children are at risk of being sexually abused?

All children, regardless of age, gender, appearance, cultural background, abilities / disabilities or peer group, can be sexually abused. Younger children and children with a disability can be more vulnerable to abuse because they rely on adults more for their personal care and are often less able to articulate any concerns.

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Who perpetrates child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse offenders can be any age, gender, appearance or cultural background, abilities / disabilities and may be someone who is either known or unknown to the child. In the vast majority of cases children are abused by someone who is known to the child and their family. An Australian Government report (Richards 2011) states that of reported child sexual abuse cases where the victim was under the age of 15, only 11.1 percent were victimised by a stranger. In addition, there is rarely anything noticeably different about child sexual abuse offenders. They can have families and jobs and may be respected members of the community (SNAICC 2007). The majority of child sexual abuse offenders are male, but child sexual abuse offenders can also be female (SNAICC 2007).

Sexual abuse may be perpetrated by an adult, or by another child. In contrast to normal sexual exploration, abuse between children will usually be characterised by the use of threats, bribes, coercion or tricks.

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What tactics do perpetrators use to abuse children?

Below is a list of tactics that perpetrators use to abuse children. Some of these tactics overlap and not all tactics are used in all cases of child sexual abuse. Tactics used on children include:

Tactics used on the adults who care about the child include:

For the perpetrator, child sexual abuse is not about sex but is about power and control. Sexual abuse perpetrators are a low percentage of the population. Not all adults who build a relationship with your family are trying to sexually abuse your child. However it is useful to be aware of the tactics that perpetrators use. These tactics are used to:

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What are the impacts of child sexual abuse on those who have been abused?

Sexual abuse affects those who have been abused, throughout their life (Queensland Government 2011; Lamont 2011). Different individuals feel the effects of abuse in different ways, and there can be long term impacts from sexual abuse, even if no short term impacts are apparent (Queensland Government 2011). Some of the impacts include:

(Queensland Government 2011; Lamont 2011; Access Economics 2008; Mullen & Fleming 1998)

Individuals who have been sexually abused as children also have an increased risk of:

(Queensland Government 2011; Lamont 2011; Access Economics 2008; Mullen & Fleming 1998)

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Can people recover from being sexually abused?

Recovery from child sexual abuse is best facilitated by a supportive network of significant others. Children who have been abused and have positive school experiences where they feel they have succeeded academically, socially or in sport have significantly lower rates of adult difficulties (Mullen & Fleming 1998). However, there are inherent challenges to recovery for children who experience abuse.

The frequency of the abuse, the age the abuse began, the relationship the child has with the perpetrator are all factors that impact on the child’s recovery. Children who are able to share information with a trusted adult, and who are believed, experience less impact than children who do not disclose the abuse.

The most serious effects of child sexual abuse are likely to occur when no one takes action to stop the abuse or protect the child.

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What barriers may adults experience to providing safety for a child who has been sexually abused?

Discovering that a child has been sexually abused can produce feelings of shock, disbelief, guilt, blame, confusion, anger and shame. There can be barriers to providing safety for children who are being sexually abused. These include:

All of these concerns and feelings are very natural. However, adults are responsible for protecting children and an adult should do everything they can to ensure a child is safe.

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What impact does child sexual abuse have on the broader community?

Child sexual abuse costs communities in terms of:

Learning that child sexual abuse has occurred in a community may lead to:

However, a community that understands child sexual abuse and adequately protects and cares for children can support children who have been sexually abused and their families through the recovery process.

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Why address child sexual abuse?

Every human being should have the necessary environment and means to enable him/her to develop to his/her full potential. Addressing child sexual abuse contributes toward providing the necessary environment and means to enable the child to develop to their full potential. Continued violence and abuse takes away a child’s right to safety, privacy and respect and can give them a childhood characterised by worry. In addition, failing to address child sexual abuse creates a culture of secrecy, which assists perpetrators of abuse.

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How can adults protect children from child sexual abuse?

Adults can protect children from child sexual abuse by:

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What are the indicators of child sexual abuse?

This program encourages children who are being sexually abused to disclose that abuse to their trusted adults. Children displaying inappropriate sexual behaviour may be another indicator of child sexual abuse. See Family Planning Queensland’s traffic lights framework for information on age-appropriate sexual behaviours

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Tell me more about national and international perspectives on Children’s Rights

In Australia there are laws such as the Age of Consent law (Australian Government 2012) designed to protect children. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child explains that governments have a duty to protect children. Furthermore, it outlines the rights that children have including the right to safety, body privacy and respect. It explains that children should be protected from all types of abuse, whether it be physical emotional, sexual or neglect (Unicef).

It is important that children know they have the right to safety, body privacy and respect and that it is okay for a child to protect their rights. However, ultimately adults are responsible for protecting children’s rights.

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Access Economics. 2008. ‘The Cost of Child Abuse in Australia: Report by Access Economics Pty Limited, Australian Childhood Foundation and Child Abuse Prevention Research Australia at Monash University’. Australian Childhood Foundation. Downloaded from on 06/08/2012.

Commonwealth of Australia. 2012. ‘Age of Consent Laws’. Australian Institute of Family Studies: Child Family Community Australia, Australian Government. Retrieved from on 23/05/2012

Lamont, A. 2011. ‘Who abuses children’. National Child Protection Clearing House. Downloaded from on 06/08/2012.

Mullen, P.E. & Fleming, J. 1998. ‘Long-term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse’, Issues in Child Abuse Prevention, Number 9, Autumn1998. Downloaded from on 06/08/2012

Queensland Government. 2011. ‘Child Sexual Abuse’. Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services: Child Safety Services. Downloaded from on 23/05/2012

Richards, K. 2011. ‘Misperceptions about child sex offenders’ Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice No. 429 September 2011. Australian Institute of Criminology, Australian Government. Downloaded from on 04/12/2012

SNAICC (Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care). 2007. ‘Through Young Black Eyes: A handbook to protect children from the impact of family violence and child abuse’. Downloaded from on 28/05/2012

Unicef. ‘FACT SHEET: A summary of the rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child’. Retrieved from on 23/05/2012

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