I’m a parent
Be a safe adult for a child or young person
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.
As an adult, it is important that you are a safe person in the lives of children and young people so that they know who they can turn to when they feel unsafe.
Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere,
including at home, at school, online or at sport.
Adults need to be aware of what is going on in the lives of the children around them. They need to make sure they’re not distracted when a child or young person comes to them with a concern. And they need to act when they are told about anything happening that is making the child or young person feel unsafe.
Acting may involve stepping in yourself. But it may also require a call to police or the Strong Families Safe Kids Advice and Referral Line (ARL) on 1800 000 123. Find out more.
Below are some tips to help adults see below the surface.
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Spot the signs
Most children who are being sexually abused don’t tell anyone about it at the time. So it’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 to reach out for support if you have concerns as there may be other things going on for the child or young person like bullying, anxiety or health concerns. And these signs may not always be present. Scroll down to learn about the importance of talking regularly with your child and some tips on how to make these talks count.
Sexualised language or behaviour
Are they using sexual language or exhibiting sexual behaviour you wouldn’t expect them to know about or understand?
Have they become secretive about their phone or internet use, where they are going or who they are with?
Are they being guarded and avoiding giving you information about their activities?
Asking for money
Have they started asking for amounts of money without clear reason?
Are they using the toilet more frequently, or mentioning pain or discomfort when using the toilet?
Do they have unexpected urine stains or blood in their underwear not related to a period?
Bed wetting and nightmares
Are they having nightmares or started wetting the bed?
Are they over tired, restless or on their phone late at night?
Have you noticed they are frightened of, or try to avoid being alone with, a person or people they know?
Have they changed their eating habits?
Are they refusing to eat or overeating?
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 becoming aggressive, angry or expressing other violent behaviours?
Are they talking badly about themselves, saying things like “I’m stupid” or “I’m an idiot” when they make small errors?
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 it’s not necessary, not wanted by the child or not appropriate?
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 them?
Have they been getting into or out of vehicles driven by unknown adults?
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 or vaping?
Lack of engagement or going missing?
Are they going missing at times, overnight or for longer periods?
Have they stopped engaging at school or are they displaying unusual school absences?
Are there changes in their attendance in recreational activities, work or sport?
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?
Talking with your child: Listen and don't judge
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 that what has happened to them is abuse.
It is important to simply listen.
Don’t interrupt the child while they talk. Take your time, don’t judge and don’t rush to ‘fix’ things. This will help the child feel safe enough to talk.
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, such as those provided above, that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”.
Try to help your child see how ground rules you both agree on can help keep them safe – online and offline.
Remain calm. 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.
Some sexual behaviour can be appropriate depending on the age of the child. For behaviour to be appropriate, it must be expected at that developmental age, be socially acceptable, and include shared decision making and consent. Read this helpful guide from Berry Street.
Make time to talk on an ongoing basis. As a rule, talk little and often. Find out why talking is so important.