What is sexual abuse?

What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse can happen to girls and boys and is never a child's fault.

Parents text content

Child sexual abuse is when a child or young person under the age of 18 is pressured, forced or tricked into any sexual activity with an adult or another young person. This doesn’t have to be physical contact and it can happen online.

All sexual contact between an adult and a child is sexual abuse. 

Sexual abuse can include:

  • Encouraging a child to engage in any sexual activity, including online
  • Touching a child sexually anywhere on the body, clothed or unclothed
  • Assault by penetration, including rape or penetration of the mouth with an object or part of the body
  • Forcing a child to touch themselves or someone else sexually
  • Making a child watch other people have sex, or watch pornography
  • Buying a sexual act from a child, or giving (or offering to give) a child something in exchange for a sexual act
  • Producing, distributing and showing indecent images of children

Is sexual activity between two young people over the age of 16 an offence?

The age young people can legally have sex is 16. This is called the 'age of consent'. Sexual activity between two consenting young people over the age of 16 is not sexual abuse.

However it's still illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to take, make or share nude or semi-nude images. Read more about the law around nude image sharing

Finding out your child has been sexually abused is a traumatic experience. Whatever has happened, it's important that they know that it was never their fault and that they have your support. Find out more about how to support your child and get help for yourself