What is Sexual Abuse

is any sort of non-consensual sexual act. This can happen to men, women and children of any age or sexual orientation. Abuse is about misuse of power and control. All sexual abuse is WRONG. Abusers can be male or female. Sometimes they are strangers, however, more often than not they are someone who is loved and trusted by the victim family members and friends.


Sexual abuse of adults is often perpetrated by someone known to the victim and includes behaviours such as denigrating name calling, refusal to use contraception, deliberately causing unwanted pain during sex, using objects to cause pain or humiliation, deliberate exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.

is when a child is pressurised, forced, coerced or tricked into taking part in sexual acts. It is never the child’s fault. Sometimes a child will not even realise that what is happening to them is wrong. There is never an excuse for abuse.


Sexual abuse can be:

  • Being touched in an inappropriate sexual way, clothed or unclothed
  • Inappropriate kissing
  • Explicit sexual talk
  • Being forced to have penetrative or oral sex
  • Encouraging a child to engage in sexual acts such as masturbation
  • Engaging in sexual activity in front of a child in person or online e.g. flashing or masturbation
  • Forcing a child to look at sexual pictures or videos
  • Showing a child pornography or using a child to create pornography



Abusers often introduce secrecy to control, frighten or blackmail their victims. Abusers want children to feel responsible, guilty and ashamed so that they are less likely to tell anyone and therefore the abuser is less likely to be caught.


When the abuser is someone very close, some victims experience really conflicting emotions. On the one hand they may love the person while they hate their behaviour. This may be difficult for others to understand and can make victims feel guilty and ashamed.


More recently, vulnerable adults and children have become increasingly at risk of online abuse either from people they know or from strangers. Online abuse may be an extension of what is going on in the real life and includes;


  • Sending or posting sexually explicit images of themselves
  • Taking part in sexual activities via webcam or smart phone
  • Having sexual conversations by text or online


For more information on sexual abuse see links below.


Rape Crisis Scotland have produced a number of informative downloadable booklets including:

Sexual Abuse, Rape and Sexual Assault

Supporting LGBTI Survivors of Sexual Violence


There are helpful resources available to download;

National Association for People Abused in Childhood


Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse where a young person having sex in return for something else, such as attention, gifts, alcohol or drugs.

It can affect any child, boy or girl, no matter what their background. Child sexual exploitation can take many forms, and young people often don’t realise they are being abused. More..


Children and young people often do not know that they are being sexually exploited and are sometimes groomed online.


Adults can take steps to help a child who is being sexually exploited by being aware of the following signs:

  • persistently going missing or returning late
  • being agitated or stressed prior to leaving home or care
  • returning distraught, dishevelled or under the influence of substances
  • receiving lots of texts or phone calls before leaving
  • playing truant from school
  • showing signs of inappropriate sexualised behaviour for their age
  • having physical symptoms or infections such as bruising, bite marks or sexually transmitted infections
  • getting in to or leaving cars driven by unknown adults or taxis
  • having a significantly older ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’
  • acquiring items, such as money or a mobile phone, without a plausible explanation
  • leaving home or care without permission
  • having low self esteem
  • self harming or showing other signs of despair
  • showing possible signs of substance misuse

Grooming is befriending and establishing trust and an emotional connection with a child or vulnerable adult. This involves

  • Buying them gifts
  • Giving them levels of attention they are unused to
  • Offering friendship, advice and understanding
  • Taking them on trips and outings


Grooming can take place in person or online.


Online groomers can use social networks, instant messaging and even gaming platforms to establish relationships. They often pretend to be someone else and can use fake profiles pictures. It is important to think carefully about sharing personal details online.


Sometimes parents, carers or the whole family might be groomed in order to gain access to a potential victim.

For anyone looking for more information on the issues of sexual abuse or how to keep children and vulnerable adults safe, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) website has a wealth of information. MORE


Downloadable guides for children, adults abused in childhood, parents and carers include the following:

Sexual Abuse


Harmful Sexual Behaviour

Signs, Symptoms and effects of Child Abuse including Self Harm

How to Keep Children Safe from Sexual Abuse (The Underwear Rule)

Online Abuse

Child Sexual Exploitation

Child Trafficking

Female Genital Mutilation

Online Safety

Sexting: Advice for parents

What to do if you suspect Abuse


It is important for survivors of rape, sexual assault or sexual abuse to be listened to and believed whether they have just been attacked or they are talking about events that happened in the past.



You may have difficulty in knowing what to say or do to help your loved one. It’s okay to not have all the answers; simply being there and listening can be a wonderful support for the survivor.


Let your loved one know that you care, that you believe them, that you don’t blame them, that it is not their fault,



Unfortunately, there are no quick or easy fixes for healing from sexual violence, so it’s important to be patient when the process seems to be taking what some consider to be a long time.

Self-care strategies and coping skills can help you move through these feelings. Rape Crisis Scotland have produced a helpful downloadable brochure for Family and Friends

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