What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse: the facts

There are things that happen that can be really difficult to talk about. Things that feel scary and out of our control.

One of these things is sexual abuse.

What is it?

Sexual abuse is when a young person is pressured, forced or tricked in to any sexual activity with an adult or another young person.

This can include:

  • Kissing
  • Being touched sexually, for example, someone touching your private parts
  • Being forced to touch yourself or someone else sexually
  • Someone kissing your private parts
  • Being forced to have sex
  • Being made to watch other people have sex, or watch pornography

Who does it happen to?

Sexual abuse can happen to both boys and girls. It can happen whether you’re young or old, gay or straight, and no matter where you’re from or what your cultural background is.

If someone is sexually abused it is NEVER their fault.

Who could be doing this and why?

People that do this can be men or women, young or old, the same sex as you and from any cultural background. Children and young people can be sexually abused by strangers and by people they know and love, including members of their family.

There are many different reasons why an adult may try to sexually abuse a young person.

A small number of adults are 'paedophiles'. This means they would rather have sex with children and young people and target them for abuse.

Others adults don’t care who they have sex with but think children and young people are easier to pressure, force or trick into sex.

It is more likely for a young person to be sexually abused by someone that they know – perhaps someone that they love and trust. However the internet has made it easier for abusers to target young people for sex, which means its really important to be careful if you talk to strangers online.

Whether a young person is being abused by someone that they know – like a member of their family – or someone that they don’t know very well – like someone they met in a chatroom or who followed them on Twitter – it is always wrong and never their fault.

Nobody has the right to sexually abuse you. There are people out there who care and who can help make it stop.

Speaking out

Sexual abuse can be really difficult to talk about. Whether it's happening now or happened in the past there are people out there who understand and are there for you.

Recognise it

Sexual abuse can happen in different ways and can happen in the real world or online, so it’s important to recognise it. Sexual abuse is when:

  • You’re being touched in a way you don’t like, without giving your permission or consent.

  • You’re being forced to have sex.

  • You’re forced to look at sexual pictures or videos.

  • You’re made to watch someone do something sexual. This can include someone exposing themselves to you via video chat, in pictures or in person.

  • You’re made to do something sexual to yourself or to someone else that feels uncomfortable or wrong. This could be via a video chat or face-to-face.

Are you worried about sexual abuse?

Is this happening to you?

If you have been sexually abused you may feel like you’re on your own but there is help available. There are people out there who understand, who will listen to you and who will help make it stop.

The most important thing to do is to tell someone what has happened. Taking that first step to tell someone can be really difficult and even embarrassing. There are some tips about how to start talking to someone you trust about things which are difficult here.

There is more information on organisations that can offer you help, advice and support below.

Talk to someone


ChildLine is a free helpline for children and young people. You can contact ChildLine about anything. No problem is too big or too small. Whatever your worry, it's better out than in.

ChildLine is a private and confidential service. Confidential means not telling anyone else what you’ve said. This means that whatever you say stays between you and ChildLine.

They would only need to tell someone else if:

  • You ask them to
  • They believe your life or someone else’s life is in immediate danger
  • You are being hurt by someone in a position of trust who has access to other children like a teacher or police officer
  • You tell us that you are seriously harming another young person

Call them on 0800 1111. The number won’t appear on your phone bill.

You can also visit www.childline.org.uk to speak to a counsellor online.

Share your experiences with other young people

Talk to other young people about your experiences and get support at the ChildLine messageboards. There are lots of young people talking about everything from sex and relationships to sport and fashion.

ChildLine messageboard 

Report it


 helps young people who are being sexually abused or are worried that someone they’ve met is trying to abuse them.

If you’ve met someone online, or face to face, and they are putting you under pressure to have sex or making you feel uncomfortable you should report to CEOP.

This might be someone:

  • Making you have sex when you donʼt want to
  • Chatting about sex online
  • Asking you to meet up face to face if youʼve only met them online
  • Asking you to do sexual things on camera
  • Asking for sexual pictures of you
  • Making you feel worried, anxious or unsafe

If this is happening to you, or you’re worried that it might be, you can report this to CEOP.