Child sexual abuse is committed by men, women, teenagers and other children. Offenders come from all parts of society and all backgrounds. They often seem ‘normal’ to others and in many cases their friends, relatives and co-workers find it hard to believe that they have abused a child.
Relationship between the child and their abuser;
Many children who have experienced sexual abuse were abused by someone they know. This may be:
-a member of their family
-an adult who has sought out and targeted them as a potential victim.
-Religious personells trusted by the parents or family of the child
Perpetrators of child sexual abuse may look for weak spots in a family, community or organisation so they can gain unsupervised access to children. They often plan the abuse in advance and start grooming the child, the child’s family and the child’s environment. The victim may believe they have a sincere or loving relationship with their abuser and their family and friends may trust and respect the abuser.
Research suggests that child sexual abuse can be carried out in different ways.
-Inappropriate relationships where an older abuser has some kind of power over the child. This could be physical, emotional or financial.
-The “boyfriend/girlfriend” model involves the abuser grooming the child by exchanging gifts and other normal dating activities. The child may think they are in a conventional relationship
-Organised exploitation and trafficking where children are abused by more than one adult as part of a network. The child may be forced or manipulated into taking part in sexual acts with other people. Organised exploitation may involve the movement of victims into and across the country, as well as exchanging images of child abused.
If you think a child must have been abused, the best thing to do is to save the child and report to the authorities and child safety organisations around you.
Most sexual abuse isn’t reported, detected or prosecuted. This may be because adults in the child's life do not recognise the signs that they are being abused, the child may not understand what's happening to them is abuse or may be too afraid to speak out.
When assessing a child who has been sexually abused, it’s important to focus on the child’s individual needs.
-Listen to the child’s point of view.
-Ensure the child knows they are taken seriously and that they will be protected. Make it clear that abuse is never a child’s fault.
-Include children in making decisions that affect them.
-Remember that children don’t always respond to direct questions and may not have the words to describe their experience or its impact.
-Identify the child's support network. Do this with the child where possible.
-Assess parents’ and carers’ ability to protect the child from further abuse.
-Identify roles and responsibilities of all professionals involved with the child, and follow agreed procedures to share information about child protection concerns.
-Creating safer environments
Using a contextual safeguarding approach to prevent child sexual abuse allows adults to think about the places where abuse might happen outside of the home and take action to mitigate potential risks in each location.
Young people are likely to spend time in environments with little or no adult supervision. It’s important to consider the risks posed to young people in these areas. Keep children safe by checking regularly on areas that are infrequently used or left unsupervised, such as quiet corridors or outdoor spaces. Also ensure all areas are well lit.
Children can be vulnerable to sexual abuse and inappropriate content in the online world. There are actions parents, carers and organisations can take to keep online spaces safe for children. It's also important children are given the knowledge and skills needed to keep themselves safe online, to build their own resilience.
-People who work or volunteer with children Follow safer recruitment practices to ensure that only suitable adults work with children and that everyone working or volunteering with children has regular child protection training so they know the signs of sexual abuse and how to respond appropriately.
-Empowering children and parents
It’s important that parents and carers know how to keep their children safe. They need to know what questions to ask about the people who are working with children and be able to have conversations with their children about difficult topics.
-Talking to children about sexual abuse
Talking PANTS is a simple way to talk to children as young as four about the underwear rule and encourage them to speak out if someone touches them inappropriately.
-It's important to have ongoing discussions with children and young people about relationships. This gives you the opportunity to promote healthy behaviours and let young people know you are there for them if they ever need support.
-Children may not always be aware that they are in an unhealthy relationship, particularly if they are being groomed. Make sure you are able to recognise the signs of sexual abuse and respond appropriately.
It’s vital to build safe and trusting relationships with children so they can speak out about any problems they are experiencing. This involves teaching children what abuse is and how they can get help.