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Child sexual abuse

If a life is in danger or a crime is happening now, dial Triple Zero (000).

If you have reason to suspect a child is experiencing, or is at risk of sexual abuse, contact:

  • Regional Intake Service (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)
  • the Child Safety After Hours Service Centre on 1800 177 135 or 07 3235 9999 (24 hours a day).

What is child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse is when an adult, a stronger child or a teenager involves a child in sexual activity. Sexual abuse can include:

  • having any kind of sexual contact with a child
  • having sexual relations with a child under 16 years old
  • talking in a sexually explicit way that’s not suitable for a child’s age
  • sending obscene mobile messages or emails to a child
  • persistently intruding on a child’s privacy
  • showing pornographic material to a child or forcing them to watch a sexual act
  • child prostitution.

Signs of sexual abuse

Children who’ve been sexually abused may show general signs of child abuse. They may also:

  • know more about sexual activities than other children their age
  • play in a sexual way
  • have redness or pain around their mouth or private parts
  • have torn, stained or bloody clothes, especially underwear
  • often play games about power or control
  • masturbate more than what is normal for their age

If a child shows any of these signs, you may need to act to keep them safe.

Protect a child from sexual abuse

You should always:

  • know who is looking after your children
  • listen to your children and believe what they say—children hardly ever make up stories about sexual abuse
  • watch your child for signs of stress in a specific person’s company
  • be aware of possible signs of grooming.

Recognise grooming

Grooming is the way sex offenders gain the trust of children before involving them in sexual activities.

Examples can be if someone:

  • regularly offers to babysit for free or take a child on overnight outings
  • separates a child from other adults or children
  • buys a child very expensive or too many gifts
  • insists on a physical show of affection such as kissing, hugging, wrestling or tickling even when the child clearly doesn’t want it
  • is too interested in the sexual development of a child
  • insists on time alone with the child with no interruption
  • takes lots of pictures of children
  • shares alcohol or drugs with younger children or teenagers
  • shows their genitals to a child.

When you’re not with your child

You have a right to know your child is safe and to ask questions about what they’ll be doing and who’ll be looking after them.

People who work with children must:

Organisations must:

  • be able to show you in writing how they plan to handle claims of sexual abuse
  • offer activities that suit the age of the children
  • look after all the children in their care.

Teach your child

Help your child to be safe without frightening them. You could tell them:

  • that the parts of their bodies covered by underwear are private
  • what the right names for these body parts are
  • that they should let you know if anyone tries to touch their private parts
  • who they can talk to if you’re not available.

If your child is not yet in school, you can:

  • teach them about personal safety in simple language
  • repeat the same rules often
  • play ‘what if’ games to repeat the message.

If your child is in primary school, you can teach them:

  • your family safety rules
  • how to use the rules in a situation that could be dangerous.

You can teach your teenager to:

  • think for themselves
  • make good decisions
  • be strong and confident.

Where to get help and advice

Support is also available from:

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last updated:
19 December 2017
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