I’m worried someone might be abusing my child. How can I tell?


Children who are sexually abused may:

Stay away from certain people

  • they might avoid being alone with people, such as family members or friends
  • they could seem frightened of a person or reluctant to socialise with them.
  • Show sexual behaviour that’s inappropriate for their age

A child might become sexually active at a young age

  • they might be promiscuous
  • they could use sexual language or know information that you wouldn’t expect them to.

Have physical symptoms             

  • anal or vaginal soreness
  • an unusual discharge
  • sexually transmitted infection (STI)


Why would someone sexually abuse a child?

Any reason an abuser gives for abusing a child is just a justification. The real reason people abuse children is because they have the power, control and have created the opportunity to abuse. It is very normal to want to ask the abuser why they did what they did, but it is very unlikely that any answer you receive will be either honest or helpful.

What would the abuser have said or done to my child to stop them from telling me?

Abusers will often use a combination of gifts or treats and threats about what will happen if the child says ‘no’ or tells someone. They may scare the child with threats of being hurt physically, but much more often the threat is about what will be lost if they tell e.g. the family breaking up or someone going to prison. To stop the child from telling anyone, the abuser will use the child’s fear, embarrassment or guilt about what is happening, often convincing them that no one will believe them or that the child will be punished. Sometimes the abuser will tell the child that they enjoyed it and wanted it to happen and this can be very confusing and upsetting.

My child has said that they let it happen or sometimes it felt nice, is this normal?

Sometimes, a child may be confused if they experienced positive physical pleasure, arousal, or emotional intimacy from the abuse. This confusion can make it difficult for the child to speak up.

A child may feel that they permitted the abuse and should have been able to stop it. Remember that there are no situations where a child is responsible for any sexual interaction with a more powerful child or adult. (Stop it Now)

Why didn’t my child tell me that this was happening?

The abusive adult will often convince the child that they won’t be believed or that they are somehow responsible for the abuse and will be punished for it. The child may care about or feel protective of the person who sexually abused them, for example it may be a parent or other close family, and will likely feel they’d be betraying this person by telling about the abuse. They may also be told that if they tell the non-abusing parent/carer it will ruin their life in some way, so children will often keep the secret so as to protect the non-abusive parent/carer.

My child was abused by another child, is that common?

Around a third of people who abuse a child are under 18 themselves, and in much younger children especially they might not realise that their behaviour is harmful to others. It can make it hard to know how to react, and that’s ok as it is outside the realm of what we would expect. It is still very serious and should be treated as such.

Does this mean they will become an abuser now?

No, it is a myth that people who have been abused become abusers themselves. This is often used to try and excuse those who perpetrate sexual abuse. If you think about it, the majority of survivors are women and girls, and the majority of perpetrators are men and boys, so this just wouldn’t make sense.

What is grooming?

Grooming is when someone builds, or uses an existing emotional connection with a child to gain or exploit their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking. Children and young people can be groomed online or face-to-face, by a stranger or by someone they know – for example a family member, friend or professional. Many children and young people don’t understand that they have been groomed or that what has happened is abuse. (NSPCC)

The abuser will try to be seen as trustworthy by families and communities, to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to believe they might hurt someone. This is often part of their grooming process.

Is this my fault for allowing them into our lives?

Perpetrators of sexual violence are very manipulative and don’t just groom the survivor, but will groom families and even whole communities into trusting them so that they are able to sexually abuse. The perpetrator made the decision to lie, manipulate and abuse. The betrayal of trust can be immensely painful.

Could I have done something differently?

When something bad happens it is normal for us to try and rationalise it by thinking about what we could have done to stop it. However, the perpetrator is the only one who should and could have done something differently. You and your child are not blame for the abuser’s actions.