Children are sexually abused when another person forces or manipulates them into taking part in sexual activities. The abuse can also involve non-physical contact e.g. exposing private parts or online abuse. More than one person may be involved in abusing the child. The abusers can be of any age e.g. they can be other children or adults. The offenders usually build trust with the children first. They may also sometimes build up trust with the parents so abuse is not suspected. Children do not usually understand what is happening to them.
There are many different sexual abuse models. For example, offenders may already be known to the child e.g. family friends, relatives, neighbours, babysitters, teachers, other professionals who have access etc. However, groups of men unknown to the child may also target them by befriending them and then building trust and an emotional connection with them. Two models discussed here are child sexual abuse in the family environment and child sexual exploitation by groups and gangs.
Many adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse never tell anyone about their trauma. Those who have told someone may not have been believed, which adds to the distress. Long-term effects of abuse can include depression, post traumatic stress, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem and difficulty forming healthy relationships or trusting anyone. Many survivors will also carry feelings of intense shame. It is important that adult survivors seek counselling because talking to someone helps in the healing process. Talking to a professionally trained counsellor can help to release unexpressed feelings caused by the trauma and to help to see that it was not the victim's fault, who often wrongly blame themselves for the abuse.