Child sexual abuse is a real, serious problem on a global scale. There is no universal definition for sexual assault since it comes in many types and ways and it depends on the perspective from which the assault is noticed. Depending on the country or culture the child is living in, laws mostly help explain the meaning of sexual assault. (INSPQ, n.d.)

The most common misconception about child sexual abuse is that these events happen against girls by male strangers. However, this is not usually the case. Child sexual abuse happens everywhere and “results in harm to millions of children, boys and girls alike, in large and small communities, and across a range of cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds” (Murray, Nguyen, Cohen, 2015).

In this part of the chapter, an overview will be provided regarding the issues and the theoretical explanations that are known present day. These explanations express “the importance of prevention and sex education as of childhood, as well as the need to continue investigating in order to develop specific theoretical models that help to understand and prevent childhood sexual abuse and its consequences” (Castro, Ibanez, Mate, Esteban & Barrada, 2019).

Defining and explaining

Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse that includes diverse types of sexual activity, mostly performed with an underaged child and without the proper knowledge or consent of this underaged child. This type of activity is “considered as an activity aimed at providing sexual pleasure, stimulation, or sexual gratification to an adult who uses a minor for this purpose, taking advantage of the situation of superiority” (Castro, Ibanez, Mate, Esteban & Barrada, 2019).

This broad definition results in a variety of experiences from noncontact abuse to sexually abusing a child physically (Olafson, 2010). The effects of sexual abuse can be immensely devastating and can carry along huge, long-lasting effects and traumas.

When an offender tries to engage in any types of sexual activity with a child, they are automatically committing a serious crime which will have long-term effects on the victim, as well as on the offender for multiple years (Rainn, 2020). Keeping children safe is what all parents and caretakers want, but this can be challenging since most offenders are in a position of trust. Studies have shown that 93% of children, who were sexually assaulted, know their offender (Snyder, 2000).

Forms of sexual abuse

  • rape;
  • sexual touching of a child’s body;
  • using an object to penetrate a child;
  • forcing a child to participate in diverse sexual activities;
  • forcing a child to have sexual contact with other people and show nudity;
  • all forms of kissing and oral sex. (NSPCC, n.d.)

Some forms of sexual abuse do not directly involve physical contact between the offender and the under-aged child. Some different forms of non-contact sexual abuse can be:

  • exposing a naked body to an under-aged child;
  • masturbation in front of the under-aged child;
  • extortion;
  • stalking the under aged child for example; texting, calling, or other types of digital interaction;
  • the process of trafficking under-aged children meant for sex trade;
  • any other type of abuse which has effect on a child’s mental, emotional or physical well-being (Rainn, 2020).

Other forms of non-contact abuse can happen on the internet. Because of globalization, more people tend to turn to the internet to get into contact with under-aged children which can also bring damaging effects to a child. This is an easy way for offenders to get into contact with under-aged children who are getting familiar with the internet. “Online sexual exploitation and abuse is when one person manipulates another person to get them to do something sexual – it’s an ongoing cycle of emotional and psychological abuse” (Kids Help Phone, n.d.).

Signs of sexual abuse

It is not easy to say or see exactly when a child is being sexually assaulted or not since most offenders often hide their actions as best as they can (Rainn, 2020). Some signs are easy to see and some are not. Signs of child sexual abuse are either physical or emotional yet physical signs are less common to occur. “Emotional signs can range from “too perfect” behaviour to withdrawal, depression, or unexplained anger” (Darkness to light, 2020).

The following lists of signs may show us that something might be happening in a child’s private situation. It does not need to mean that a child is being sexually abused when showing these specific characteristics, but when noticing a few of these characteristics, it is necessary that questions should be asked and help should be asked for future.

It is never easy to know specifically when sexual abuse is happening in the classroom and it can be even more challenging to stand up and take action when there are signs something is wrong. If a child seems off, or a situation with a child seems off, it is important to put attention to it. To listen to the child and to try to work with the situation. Teachers should make sure to find someone who they can talk to and who can help them observe the situation to make a final decision in taking further action (Rainn, 2020).

Emotional signs of sexual abuse

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Sleep disturbances, including nightmares or night terrors.
  • Change in eating habits and/or possible health problems
  • Unusual fear of people or places; possibly scared to be alone.
  • Mood swings; could include anger or aggressiveness towards parents, friends or peers.
  • Possible changes in the attitude towards school or lack of interests in sports or friends
  • Showing almost perfect behaviour to hide certain things.
  • New sexual behaviour or language which hasn’t been shown or noticed before.
  • Not being fully outgrown towards certain behaviours like thumb sucking.

Physical signs of sexual abuse

  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Urinary infections and/or sexually transmitted diseases
  • Consistent pain when using the bathroom and/or toilet accidents
  • Stomach and/or headaches
  • Visible signs of self-harm

Impacts of sexual abuse

Sexual abuse has multiple long-term and short-term effects which can result in diverse traumas, meaning there is not one specific consequence for every child who faced sexual abuse. In fact, the after-effects of sexual assault differ per child. All children who are a victim of sexual abuse tend to face psychological as well as chronic effects which can affect the rest of their development throughout their growth. One of the most common effects of sexual abuse in children are the known symptoms of PTSD, also known as a post-traumatic stress disorder as well as that psychological distress and inappropriate sexual behaviour could be effects children can be confronted with in the future. (Hall & Hall, 2011)

Another big effect sexual abuse can have on a child is that they are more vulnerable to encountering the same situation later on in their childhood or even later on in adulthood. Research proves that child sexual abuse “has a clear correlation with high-risk sexual behaviours (e.g. multiple sexual partners) and may have a connection with later abuse on others” (Murray, Nguyen & Cohen, 2015).

A child who goes through a process of child sexual abuse tends to have difficulties in speaking up about the abuse that is happening, which leads the child to automatically creating a negative environment and mindset at that time. These negative thoughts and expressions will continue for years as the child grows older if he/she does not receive the correct help, which will automatically lead to the child feeling empty, ashamed and worthless.

Research has shown that victims of child sexual abuse mostly give themselves the blame for what has occurred. “When the sexual abuse is done by an esteemed trusted adult, it may be hard for the children to view the perpetrator in a negative light, thus leaving them incapable of seeing what happened as not their fault” (Hall & Hall, 2011, p. 2).

A long-term effect which many children encounter when being sexually abused is having body issues. This can be due to the child feeling uncomfortable or dirty when thinking back in time where the abuse took place.  These effects can then result into “dissatisfaction with body or appearance, eating disorders, and obesity” (Hall & Hall, 2011, p. 3).

Creating a safe environment in the classroom

Most adults work hard to create a safe environment for all children. Therefore, it is always a priority to help protect children from any type of sexual abuse and to educate all children about sexual abuse as soon as possible since “educating children about the realities of sexual abuse can dramatically reduce the risk of being abused” (Jay, 2020).

When speaking about safety for children, teachers should be aware to use a specific language to let students express themselves without being judged. Not all students understand the meaning of good or bad, so instead, “words like “safe” and “unsafe” allow children to comprehend a situation without concern about punishment” (Jay, 2020). This can make the situation easier for the child to explain what is happening.


A few examples of everyday prevention strategies that can be used are:

  • Discussing sexual abuse with children regarding their safety;
  • Informing children what they can do if they end up in a situation alone with an adult;
  • Inform about supervision inside and outside of school;
  • Be aware of adults who isolate children; for example sports training or extra one to one learning activities;
  • Providing tools for children to express their feelings, emotions and thoughts;
  • Checking in with children from time to time (‘how was your day?’, ‘how are things going over there?’);
  • Trusting your instinct when something doesn’t feel good and taking action if necessary. (Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, n.d.)  

NOTE: Some of these  topics and ideas may cause some issues for educators in different school and community settings. Make sure you have the support and cooperation of your colleagues, administrators and/or parents before  taking action.

Key Takeaways

Research has proved that child sexual abuse is a serious global problem which will stay an issue for a longer period of time. Therefore, the objective of this piece of writing is to prove and present you with found results, definitions, characteristics and the different consequences we run into regarding child sexual abuse. To prevent these acts from happening, we will need to focus more on better education regarding this topic from an early age on (Murray, Nguyen, Cohen, 2015). It is clear now that child sexual abuse is “associated with the risk of negative psychosocial and health outcomes, but processes of resilience have also identified several protective factors (eg, family support, parent-child relationships, social support) that could be strengthened through prevention and early intervention efforts” (Murray, Nguyen, Cohen, 2015).

In this field of study, many questions stay unanswered. This will remain a sensitive topic where people tend to say less than more. Future researchers will need to continue researching “the identification, treatment and prevention of child sexual abuse” (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2013) but until then, multiple resources are available to help guide victims through this process of sexual assault. By having previous knowledge about this topic as a victim of child sexual abuse, it will be easier to go through the process of rehabilitating from their previous experiences when being in a safe environment and while having access to all necessary, available support systems.


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Inclusive Perspectives in Primary Education Copyright © 2021 by room305 and Inclusive Education Class 2020-2021 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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