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Understanding child abuse

Any form of sexual or sexualised activity with a child is abuse. This can involve physical contact or non-contact activities, such as exposing a child to pornography. Some children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse, including:

• children with a disability
• Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children, and
• children from diverse backgrounds.

Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere,
including at home, at school, online or at sport.

Contact 000 for urgent police or medical help if a child is at immediate risk of harm.

Call police on 131 144 if youhave any information about child sexual abuse

Spot the signs

Most children who are being sexually abused don’t tell anyone about it at the time. Soit’s important to look out for signs. You might notice changes in their behaviour, mood and appearance, or be concerned about the behaviour of someone around them.

These changes don’t always mean that a child is being sexually abused. But it’s best toreach out for support if you have concerns.

Sexualised language or behaviour
Are they using sexual language or exhibiting sexual behaviour you wouldn’t expect
them to know?

Toilet habits
Are they using the bathroom more frequently, or mentioning pain or discomfort
when using the bathroom? Do they have unexpected incontinence or blood in their

Bed wetting and nightmares
Are they having nightmares or wetting the bed? Are they over tired, restless or on their
phone late at night?

Have they become secretive about what they are doing on the internet or when out
and about?

Have you noticed they are frightened of, or try to avoid being alone with, a person or
people they know?

Eating habits
Have they changed their eating habits? Do they seem to have developed eating
issues? Are they refusing to eat or overeating?

Self harm
Are they hurting themselves physically?

Depressed, distant or distracted
Are they unusually distracted, distant or disassociated?

Regressing to younger behaviour
Are they exhibiting behaviour that you would expect of a younger child, such as
sucking their thumb?

Excessively worried about meeting obligations
Are they unusually concerned or becoming upset if they do not respond to a message
or phone call, or visit someone at a specific time?

Angry or aggressive
Are they unusually distracted, distant or disassociated?

Low self-worth
Are they talking badly about themselves, saying things like “I’m stupid” or “I’m an
idiot” when they make small errors?

Lack of interest or motivation
Have they suddenly lost interest in schoolwork, leisure activities or friends?

Unusual behaviour in someone around the child
Is someone around the child acting in a way that is concerning you? Are they
encouraging the child to engage in ‘grown up’ activities or activities that you perceive
as sexualised? Are they play-fighting, tickling or touching ‘accidentally’?

Child being singled out
Is someone around the child spending unusual amounts of time alone with the child?
Are they singling the child out, either to favour or to bully them? Are they insisting on
hugging or kissing the child when the child does not want them to?

New friends
Online or offline, have they started hanging around with new ‘friends’, who may be
older than them? Do you have a strange or bad feeling about the people around

New gifts or items
Have you seen new phones, expensive clothes or accessories – and you don’t know
how they got them?

Substances or drugs
Have they started to use alcohol or other drugs, or started smoking?

Going missing
Have they gone missing from home or school? Perhaps for a short time, perhaps

Appearing to be in discomfort
Is the child frequently asking to go to the toilet, fidgeting in their seat or holding
themselves in a way that indicates discomfort?

Have you seen physical injuries, like bruises or cuts?

Poor or neglected hygiene
Are their clothes dirty, or do they have a strong body odour?

Pregnancy and/or STIs
Has the child become pregnant or contracted a sexually transmitted infection?

Speak to your child

It is very difficult for children who have been sexually abused to put into words what has
happened. They might feel scared, they might feel ashamed, or it is possible they might
not recognise what has happened to them as abuse.

Having regular talks about relationships, sex and consent in an age-appropriate way
with your child can help protect them from sexual abuse.

Speaking to your child about the possible risks can help them understand how to stay safe online and offline. If they feel they can tell you anything, you can help to protect them from abuse.

Try to avoid any dramatic ‘we need to talk’ statements. Think about a time when you’re both comfortable, and you can bring the subject up naturally, like watching TV, on a walk, a drive, or doing the dishes together.

How you talk with your child will depend on their age, but it’s a good idea to ask about the area of their life you’re concerned about in a neutral way. You might say: “Tell me about…” or “What do you think about…”

Ask about their lives. Learn about their online and offline habits. Use open questions that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”.

It’s important not to rush to a negative judgment of what your child is saying. Remember, you want your child to know they can tell you what is happening.

Try to help your child see how ground rules you both agree on can help keep them safe – online and offline.

Make time to talk on an ongoing basis. As a rule, talk little and often.