What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child Sexual Abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse. Sexual abuse can take place online, and technology can be used to facilitate offline abuse. Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.

When a child or young person is sexually abused, they’re forced or tricked into sexual activities. They might not understand that what’s happening is abuse or that it’s wrong. And they might be afraid to tell someone. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere – and it can happen in person or online.

It’s never a child’s fault they were sexually abused – it’s important to make sure children know this.

Types of sexual abuse

There are 2 different types of child sexual abuse. These are called contact abuse and non-contact abuse.

Contact abuse involves activities where an abuser makes physical contact with a child. It includes:

  • sexual touching of any part of the body, whether the child is wearing clothes or not
  • forcing or encouraging a child to take part in sexual activity
  • making a child take their clothes off or touch someone else’s genitals
  • rape or penetration by putting an object or body part inside a child’s mouth, vagina or anus.

Non-contact abuse involves activities where there is no physical contact. It includes:

  • flashing at a child
  • encouraging or forcing a child to watch or hear sexual acts
  • not taking proper measures to prevent a child being exposed to sexual activities by others
  • making a child masturbate while others watch
  • persuading a child to make, view or distribute child abuse images (such as performing sexual acts over the internet, sexting or showing pornography to a child)
  • making, viewing or distributing child abuse images
  • allowing someone else to make, view or distribute child abuse images
  • meeting a child following grooming with the intent of abusing them (even if abuse did not take place)
  • sexually exploiting a child for money, power or status (child sexual exploitation).

Signs that MAY indicate sexual abuse include changes in:

  • Behaviour
  • Language
  • Social interaction
  • Physical wellbeing

It is also important to remember there may be no signs

See NHS: Spotting signs of child sexual abuse for further information and guidance

Sexual abuse facts

  • Most abusers are family members or well-known to those they abuse, with the abuse taking place in either the child’s home or that of the abuser.
  • Research has shown that fewer than 10 per cent of children abused are abused by strangers.
  • Studies of adult abusers have revealed averages of up to 380 crimes per offender.

Source: Barnardos

What should I do if I have concerns about Child Sexual Abuse?

If you are concerned about Child Sexual Abuse you can find more information in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Children Board Child Sexual Abuse Strategy and Multi-agency Safeguarding Procedures.


The CPSCB multi-agency training programme includes courses about Child Sexual Abuse.

Tools to help assess Child Sexual Behaviours

Professionals who work with children and young people often struggle to identify which sexual behaviours are potentially harmful and which represent healthy sexual development.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Children Partnership Board have developed a tool to support professionals working with children and young people by helping them to identify and respond appropriately to sexual behaviours.

The tool categorises the sexual behaviours of young people and is designed to help professionals:

  • Make decisions about safeguarding children and young people
  • Assess and respond appropriately to sexual behaviour in children and young people
  • Understand healthy sexual development and distinguish it from harmful behaviour

By categorising sexual behaviours, professionals across different agencies can work to the same standardised criteria when making decisions and can protect children and young people with a unified approach.

Child Sexual Behaviour Assessment Tool

525.68 KB 1228 Downloads

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Partnership Board have produced a virtual briefing on using our local child sexual behaviour assessment tool

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Strategies and Guidance

The Elms SARC

The Elms Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) offers free support and practical help to anyone in Cambridgeshire who has experienced sexual abuse and
sexual violence. If you would like to speak to someone they are available 24/7 on 0800 193 5434 or you can contact them via their website.


  • The NSPCC collect national statistics about Child Sexual Abuse that show the numbers of children and young people who have reported abuse and have resources for professionals.
  • The Underwear Rule – Resources from the NSPCC – Teach your child the Underwear Rule and help protect them from abuse. It’s a simple way that parents can help keep children safe from sexual abuse – without using scary words or even mentioning sex.
  • Preventing child sexual abuse film – explores the steps we can take to keep children safe by thinking through the potential risks in children’s daily lives and taking action to protect them.
  • Making a Noise – The NSPCC and University of Bedfordshire have published a report looking at children’s experiences of help seeking and support after sexual abuse in the family. They have also released a short animation to help practitioners gain insight into the feelings and perspectives of affected children.


The Children’s Commissioner for England

The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse

The CSA Centre has created a series of 12 short films to accompany their practitioner guides (Supporting practice in tackling child sexual abuse – CSA Centre), to give professionals the knowledge to identify concerns of child sexual abuse, and the confidence to respond to the abuse, and work with the child and their family. Additional resources include

  1. Signs and Indicators: A template for identifying and responding to concerns of child sexual abuse
  2. Communicating with children: A guide for those working with children who have or may have been sexually abused
  3. Supporting parents and carers: A guide for those working with families affected by child sexual abuse