Understanding & Discussing Sexual Abuse

1. What is abuse and what is sexual abuse?

What is abuse and what is sexual abuse?

Abuse is a form of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse a child by inflicting harm or failing to act to prevent harm.

The child might be abused by an adult or another child or children. A child can also abuse or harm her or himself.

Types of Abuse:

There are many types of abuse. Some include

  • Radicalisation
  • Honour-based Violence
  • Peer on peer abuse
  • Neglect
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Sexual

The KMS App will focus on Sexual Abuse.

Sexual Abuse

Some professionals use the term sexual violence some use sexual abuse. Both terms can be used to describe sex acts that are non-consensual and that occur to children and young people or vulnerable adults. These acts are both abusive and violent.

What is Sexual abuse?

When a child or young person experiences sexual abuse, they are forced or tricked into sexual activities. They might not understand that what is happening to them is abuse or that it is wrong. They are often afraid to tell someone about what is happening to them. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere – and it can happen in person or online.

  • There are 2 types of sexual abuse – contact and non-contact abuse
  • Sexual abuse does not always involve a high level of physical violence
  • The young person may not be aware of what is happening
  • Sexual abuse can be perpetrated by men, women and young people, this is called peer to peer abuse/violence

Contact abuse:

Contact abuse is when a young person is touched in some way by the abuser.

  • Sexual touching of any part of a young person’s body whether they are clothed or not
  • Using a body part or object to rape or penetrate a young person
  • Forcing a young person to take part in sexual activities
  • Making a young person undress or touch someone else

Contact abuse can involve kissing, touching and oral sex, it is not just penetrative sex.

Non-contact abuse:

This is where a young person is being abused without being touched by the abuser. This can be in person or online.

Examples of non- contact abuse

  • Exposing or flashing
  • Showing pornography
  • Exposing a young person to sexual acts
  • Making a young person masturbate
  • Forcing a young person to make, view or share child abuse images or videos
  • Making, viewing or distributing child abuse images or videos
  • Forcing a young person to take part in sexual activities or conversations online through a smartphone or computer
2. Signs and symptoms

Emotional / behavioural signs that indicate a young person is experiencing sexual violence:

  • Sexual knowledge or sexualised behaviour inappropriate for their age
  • Hinting at sexual activity
  • Sudden changes in their personality
  • Avoiding being alone with or frightened of people they know
  • Lack of concentration, restlessness
  • Socially withdrawn
  • Poor trust in significant adults
  • Regressive behaviour
  • Suicide attempts, self-harm/mutilation, self-disgust
  • Eating disorders, hysteria attacks
  • Substance Misuse
3. What is Grooming?

What is grooming?

Grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them. Young people who are groomed can be sexually abused, exploited or trafficked.Anyone can be a groomer, no matter their age, gender or race. Grooming can take place over a short or long period of time – from weeks to years. Groomers may also build a relationship with the young person’s family or friends to make them seem trustworthy or authoritative.

Types of grooming:

Young people can be groomed online, in person or both, by a stranger or someone they know. This could be a family member, a friend, a partner or someone who has targeted them like a teacher, faith group leader, youth worker or sports coach. Anyone who has access to a young person could groom them.

When young people are groomed online the groomers hide who they are by sending photos or videos of other people. Sometimes this’ll be of someone younger than them to gain the trust of a peer.

How groomers groom young people:

Groomers can use a number of different tactics when grooming young people. The relationship they build with the young person can take on many forms, examples include…

  • A romantic relationship
  • As a mentor
  • As an authority figure

A groomer can use the same websites, apps and games as young people, spending time learning about a young person’s interests and use this to build a relationship with them. Young people can be groomed online through…

  • Text, voice and video chats in forums, games and apps.
  • Social media networks
  • Text messaging and message apps like WhatsApp
  • Email
  • Text, voice and video chats in forums, games and apps.

Groomers can use tactics like…

  • Pretending to be younger than they are
  • Giving advice and showing understanding
  • Buying gifts
  • Offering trips or holidays

Groomers may also try and isolate young people from their friends and family, making them feel dependent on them and giving the groomer power and control over them. They might use blackmail or make a young person feel guilt and shame or introduce the idea of ‘secrets’ to control, frighten and intimidate.

It is important to remember that young people may not understand that they’ve been groomed. They may have complicated feelings, like loyalty, admiration, love as well as, distress and confusion.

Signs of grooming:

It can be very difficult to tell if a young person is being groomed – the signs aren't always obvious and may be hidden. They might behave in a way that seems to be "normal" teenage behaviour, masking underlying problems.

Some of the signs you might see include:

  • being very secretive about how they're spending their time, including when online
  • having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
  • having money or new things like clothes and mobile phones that they can't or won't explain
  • underage drinking or drug taking
  • spending more or less time online or on their devices
  • being upset, withdrawn or distressed
  • sexualised behaviour, language or an understanding of sex that's not appropriate for their age
  • spending more time away from home or going missing for periods of time.

A young person is unlikely to know they've been groomed. They might be worried or confused and less likely to speak to an adult they trust. If you're worried about a young person and want to talk to them, we have advice on having difficult conversations

Effects of grooming:

Grooming can have both long and short-term effects. The impact of grooming is different for everyone and can last a lifetime, no matter whether it happened in person, online or both.

A young person might have difficulty sleeping, be anxious or struggle to concentrate or cope with school work. They may become withdrawn, uncommunicative and angry or upset.  Symptoms may include:

      • anxiety and/or depression
      • eating disorders
      • post-traumatic stress
      • difficulty coping with stress
      • self-harm
      • suicidal thoughts
      • sexually transmitted infections
4. Consent


Everyone has the right to say ‘no’ to sex, to withdraw or withhold their consent for any sexual act, on any occasion and under any circumstances, regardless of whether they’ve given consent to sex with that person in the past and regardless of whether they’re in a relationship with the other person. Sex without consent is rape.

Someone consents when she or he “agrees by choice…and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.”

There are no grey areas when it comes to consent for example:

  • If someone is under the age of 16, they don’t legally have the capacity to consent to sex.
  • If someone is asleep or unconscious, they don’t have the capacity to consent.
  • If they’ve been kidnapped or held against their will, they don’t have the freedom to consent

To learn more about consent visit this Sexual Consent info page and take a look at this video.