Child sexual abuse is the abuse of a child which involves sexual activity between a child and an older, bigger or more powerful person. It is called incest when the abuser is a family member or is close enough to be ‘as if’ family and is invested in the child in a functional role involving trust. The abuser does not have to be an adult – they can be an older child or adolescent.
Yes, of course, child sexual abuse does mean physical and sexual contact, but the ambit of the term is wider than that. It includes a range of behaviours. It may or may not include physical contact, force or violence but almost always involves some form of coercion and intent to abuse.
Physical sexual abuse includes acts like penetrative sex, fondling of the child’s genitals or making the child touch the offender’s genitals, touching any part of the child’s body with sexual intent, hugging and kissing with sexual intent, and bathing or washing the child in a sexual way.
Child sexual abuse can also occur without direct physical contact between the abuser and the victim. This includes showing pornographic material to the child, using the child in pornographic material, taking photos of the child in sexual poses or in poses that can be used in a sexual way, masturbating in front of the child, verbal abuse, making lewd gestures to the child, playing sexualized games, and chatting with the child with sexual intent over the internet.
Are some children more likely to be sexually abused than others, or is it just the same for all children?
All children are vulnerable to sexual abuse regardless of their age, gender or where and with whom they live. One reason for this is because children are trusting of all adults and, in our society, they are less powerful, less informed and taught to obey elders.
However, in the case of children with disabilities, children with same-sex attractions, gender variant children, or children who are neglected there can be an added layer of vulnerability.
Most abuse happens in the home and is a premeditated act, not an impulsive one and is more often done by someone known to the child. This makes any child a potential victim.