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How to 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 distress in a specific person’s company
  • be aware of possible signs of grooming.

Recognise grooming

Grooming refers to the way some offenders form relationships and build trust with parents, carers, teachers and other children in order to get close to a child and create the opportunity for sexual abuse. Grooming can be difficult to identify as the behaviour itself may not be abusive or sexual. It is also important to note that not all offenders use grooming techniques. 

Examples of grooming include:

  • regularly offering to babysit a child for free or take a child on overnight outings alone
  • actively excluding a child from other adults or children
  • insisting on physical affection, such as kissing, hugging, wrestling or tickling even when the child clearly doesn’t want it
  • being overly interested in a child’s sexual development
  • insisting on being alone with a child without interruption
  • taking lots of pictures of children
  • using sexually explicit language with a child
  • sharing alcohol or drugs with 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:

  • everybody has the right to feel safe
  • 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 or photograph 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 about being safe e.g. what if a stranger asks you to go inside their house to look for their lost cat?

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 encourage your teenager to:

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