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Child Sexual Abuse

What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child Sexual Abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse. Sexual abuse can take place online, and technology can be used to facilitate offline abuse. Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018

When a child or young person is sexually abused, they’re forced or tricked into sexual activities. They might not understand that what’s happening is abuse or that it’s wrong. And they might be afraid to tell someone. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere – and it can happen in person or online.

It’s never a child’s fault they were sexually abused – it’s important to make sure children know this.

Prevalence

Sexual abuse is usually hidden from view. Children and young people may not always understand that they are being sexually abused, they may be too young, too scared or too ashamed to tell anyone what is happening to them. However, there are a number of different sources of information which help us to build up a picture of the scale of abuse. The NSPCC helpline has received on average 26 contacts a day from people concerned a child is being or has been sexually exploited and/or abused. This reached a record high of 4,735 reports, a 36% increase in the first six months of 2021/22 when compared to the same six months of the previous year.

Types of Abuse

There are 2 different types of child sexual abuse. These are called contact abuse and non-contact abuse.

Contact abuse involves activities where an abuser makes physical contact with a child. It includes:

  • sexual touching of any part of the body, whether the child is wearing clothes or not
  • forcing or encouraging a child to take part in sexual activity
  • making a child take their clothes off or touch someone else’s genitals
  • rape or penetration by putting an object or body part inside a child’s mouth, vagina or anus.

Non-Contact abuse involves activities where there is no physical contact. It includes:

  • flashing at a child
  • encouraging or forcing a child to watch or hear sexual acts
  • not taking proper measures to prevent a child being exposed to sexual activities by others
  • making a child masturbate while others watch
  • persuading a child to make, view or distribute child abuse images (such as performing sexual acts over the internet, sexting or showing pornography to a child)
  • making, viewing or distributing child abuse images
  • allowing someone else to make, view or distribute child abuse images
  • meeting a child following grooming with the intent of abusing them (even if abuse did not take place)
  • sexually exploiting a child for money, power or status (child sexual exploitation).

Signs that MAY indicate sexual abuse include changes in:

  • Behaviour
  • Language
  • Social interaction
  • Physical wellbeing

It is also important to remember there may be no signs.

CSA Strategy

See Walsall Safeguarding Partnership Child Sexual Abuse Strategy

Research shows that the majority of children and young people will not tell anyone at the time of their abuse, and if they do, they are much more likely to tell friends or family than someone in a professional role. The CSA Centre’s Signs and Indicators Template helps professionals address this: gathering the wider signs and indicators of sexual abuse to build a picture of their concerns.

Although children find it very difficult to tell us about the harm they are experiencing they may show other emotional, behavioural and physical signs of their abuse. It is vital that professionals have the knowledge, skills and confidence to recognise when children might be showing them that something is wrong, as well as the potential indicators of sexually abusive behaviour in those who may be abusing them. In addition, there are some factors within the family or environment which can increase opportunities for abuse to occur, understanding what these are will enable us to reduce risks and build strengths when we are concerned.

The CSA Centre’s new Signs and Indicators Template helps professionals to gather the wider signs and indicators of sexual abuse and build a picture of their concerns.

Research indicates that just one in three children who had been sexually abused by an adult told anyone. For those abused by another child this was even less, with five out of six not speaking to anyone.

There are many barriers to children sharing their experiences of sexual abuse. We know from research and data that it simply isn’t likely that a child will feel able to tell professionals directly what is happening or recognise that what is happening to them is abuse.

Using the Signs and Indicators Template professionals are able to note what they have observed directly into the template, using practical evidence-based guidance. The template is designed to provide a common language amongst professionals to discuss, record and share concerns that a child is being, or has been sexually abused.

Download the Signs and Indicators Template

Research and practice show that it can take years for a child to get to the point where they feel able to tell someone about their experiences. This guide brings together research, practice guidance to help give professionals the knowledge and confidence to act.

It continues to be the case that far more children are being sexually abused in England and Wales than are identified or safeguarded. Half a million children are estimated to experience some form of sexual abuse each year, yet research indicates only around one in eight cases of child sexual abuse ever reach statutory services’ attention

Both research and practice show that it can take years for a child to get to the point where they feel able to tell someone. Sadly, often the younger the child is when the abuse starts, the longer it can take for it to be uncovered. We cannot forget that there are many barriers to children telling adults about harm and they may not recognise what is happening to them is abuse. It is vital that anyone who works with children knows how to recognise what is happening and understands how to help the child to have that conversation.

Communicating with children: A guide for those working with children who have or may have been sexually abused

In this new guide we aim to give all people working with children guidance in talking about child sexual abuse, explaining what may be going on for children when they are being sexually abused; what prevents them from talking about their abuse; and what professionals can do to help children speak about what is happening. It brings together research, practice guidance, and expert input – including from survivors of abuse – to help give professionals the knowledge and confidence to act.

Children will speak to the adults that they know and trust the most, not necessarily those in specific safeguarding roles, and it’s therefore vital that all professionals are able to have that initial conversation. Child sexual abuse can feel difficult and complex, but with support and guidance all professionals working with children do have the skills to do this.

Download Communication with Children

Our guide aims to help professionals provide a confident, supportive response to parents and carers when concerns about the sexual abuse of their child have been raised, or when such abuse has been identified.

Understandably, when we think about sexual abuse, we often think about the impact of the abuse on the individual child. However, it is important to remember that sexual abuse of a child affects the whole family and for parents and carers they are likely to feel overwhelmed by shock, anger, confusion and disbelief.

By supporting them professionals are not only helping the whole family recover, but also increasing the likelihood of the best possible outcome for the child. In fact, parents and carers have a significant influence on how a child will understand and respond to what has happened to them. Research shows that one of the most significant factors in affecting the longer-term impacts of sexual abuse is the support the child receives from their main caregivers and wider family.

Supporting parents and carers: A guide for those working with families affected by child sexual abuse

Sadly, it is not uncommon for parents and carers to feel judged by professionals who sometimes assume they knew about the abuse or appear to see them as failing to protect their child. These feelings can be particularly difficult for a parent if the abuse was carried out by their partner or another of their children. As such, how professionals react and engage with parents and carers is vital – they need respectful, open and honest relationships with the professionals supporting them.

This guide is designed to help professionals understand more about how child sexual abuse affects parents and their children, so that they can support them effectively. It includes situations where the child has been sexually abused by an adult or adults or experienced another child’s harmful sexual behaviour, whether this has taken place inside or outside their family environment. It explores the impact of child sexual abuse carried out in different contexts, and how such abuse can affect families differently. It explains why parents need to receive a supportive response from professionals, and what this involves, and it provides lists of resources and sources of support for professionals to support their work and share with the parents they are working with.

Download Supporting Parents and Carers Guide

Please note this guide relates to cases where sexual abuse has already been reported or concerns have already been raised.  It does not cover safeguarding actions or what to do when it is suspected that a parent is complicit in the abuse of a child.

Helping Education settings identify and respond to concerns (Panel)

Schools and professionals in education settings play a pivotal role in identifying and responding to concerns about children and supporting them to be safe. Half a million children are estimated to experience some form of sexual abuse each year, yet research indicates only around one in eight cases of child sexual abuse ever reach the attention of statutory services. Currently very few children tell anyone that they have been sexually abused and if they do, they are most likely to tell someone they know and trust, so it’s incredibly important that education professionals have the knowledge and skills to confidently have these conversations and best protect children.

This year’s Keeping children safe in education (2022) statutory guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) specifically highlights the importance of identifying concerns early and preventing concerns from escalating, all staff knowing what to do if a child shares that they have been abused and stressing understanding of how to reassure victims that they are being taken seriously and that they will be supported and kept safe.

We have produced a series of free guides, specifically for those working in education settings, to help guide effective responses. Developed by professionals for professionals, each of these bring together research, practice guidance, and expert input – including from survivors of abuse – to support response.

 

Communicating with children: A guide for education professionals when there are concerns about sexual abuse or behaviour

This resource provides guidance on how professionals should respond when they have concerns of sexual abuse, what to say and avoid, building an understanding of context, how to support children and advice on responding to harmful sexual behaviour at school.

Download Communicating with Children

Communicating with parents and carers: A guide for education professionals when there are concerns about sexual abuse or behaviour

This guide is designed to help professionals understand more about how child sexual abuse affects parents and carers and their children, so that they can support them effectively. Understandably, many teachers say they find it hard to talk to parents when there are concerns, this guide helps to support conversations of this kind and build confidence. It explores the impact of child sexual abuse carried out in different contexts, and how such abuse can affect families differently. It also explains why parents need to receive a supportive response from their child’s school/college, and what this involves.

Download Communicating with parents and carers

Safety Planning in Education: A guide for professionals supporting children following incidents of harmful sexual behaviour

Children display a range of common and healthy sexual behaviour at different stages of their development. If their behaviour is considered to be outside of this range, it may be called ‘harmful’ if it harms themselves or others.

This new guide provides practical support for those in education settings to respond to children’s needs and safety when incidents of harmful sexual behaviour occur. It is split into two: Part A looks at the key actions for a school when an incident of harmful sexual behaviour has occurred, including a safety plan template for recording and reviewing arrangements, and Part B focusses on broader practical advice such as how to communicate with children, and their parents, and an appendix with useful links and resources.

Download Safety Planning in Education

Pathway for the Management of Anogenital Symptoms in children with no disclosure of sexual abuser/ assault.

Anogenital symptom management pathway

 

You can access further information online regarding CSA identification, procedures, and support resources from:

West Midlands Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures:

  • Sexual activity in children and young people(Including under-age Sexual activity) –

https://westmidlands.procedures.org.uk/pkplh/regional-safeguarding-guidance/sexual-activity-in-children-and-young-people-including-under-age-sexual-activity-and-peer-on-peer-abuse/#s715

  • Online safety: Children exposed to abuse through digital media –

https://westmidlands.procedures.org.uk/pkphy/regional-safeguarding-guidance/online-safety-children-exposed-to-abuse-through-digital-media

  • Persons posing a risk to children –

https://westmidlands.procedures.org.uk/pkply/regional-safeguarding-guidance/persons-posing-a-risk-to-children

  • Child Sexual Exploitation –

2.1 Children affected by Exploitation and Trafficking (including Gangs) | West Midlands Safeguarding Children Group (procedures.org.uk)

  • Children who abuse others –

https://westmidlands.procedures.org.uk/pkoso/regional-safeguarding-guidance/children-who-abuse-others

 

Centre of Expertise:

 

Additional support:

  • NSPCC – Talk PANTS has been designed to help children understand that they have a right to say no and if they need to speak out about something, someone will listen.  Watch the video below: