What is Child Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse of children involves any sexual activity with a child under 16 years of age. This can involve a range of behaviour including:
- Oral sex
- Touching a child, or inviting a child to touch in a sexual manner
- Involving children or young people in looking at or making pornography
- Prostituting children or young people
- Forcing children or young people to behave inappropriately with each other (this list is not exhaustive)
Sexual abuse can start when children are babies and can continue on into adulthood. It is most often carried out by a person who is well known to the child, often within the family or in another position of trust.
Sexual abuse of children is not about uncontrollable desire – it is a desire to exert power and control over a young person for sexual gratification.
It’s impossible to give a description of what a sexual abuser will look like; if it was so easy then children could be much more easily safeguarded. The reality is that sexual abusers are fathers or stepfathers, grandfathers, uncles, teachers, priests, the man next door, care workers – in fact it could be anyone.
The one common thread across the range of sexual abuses is that it is a desire for power over the young person; it is a betrayal of the young person’s trust in that adult. Very often the abuser will turn the blame onto the young person, accuse them of instigating the abuse, blame them for being ‘flirtatious’ or looking ‘sexy’. The grooming process can encourage the secrecy, make the young person feel ‘special’ and further compound the guilt and shame for that young person with gifts or money.
All of this helps to create and encourage feelings of shame and self blame in the young person, silences them and further protects the abuser.
Grooming is a way abusers gain the trust of the child or young person, and sometimes the trust of the whole family. We have often heard news reports of trusted family friends or babysitters being uncovered as abusers, sometimes having groomed the child and other family members for several years before the abuse begins. This shows that there is no credence to the theory that abusers are ‘sick’ or have uncontrollable urges.