What is child sexual abuse/GROOMING?

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Child sexual abuse is when an adult or child involves a child in any kind of sexual activity.

This is what child sexual abuse can look like:

• A child being shown someone else’s private parts or someone encouraging or forcing a child to show their private parts.
• Asking a child to look at sexual videos or images.
• Making sexual comments to a child, or about other children, like commenting on a child’s private parts.
• Someone looking at a child in a way that makes the child uncomfortable while they are going to the toilet, are in the bath or shower, or are undressing.
• Doing anything sexual with or to a child’s body, including:
– putting fingers, objects or their private parts in a child’s private parts or mouth, or
– encouraging or forcing a child to put their fingers, private parts or other objects in someone else’s private parts or mouth.
• Touching a child, either over or under clothing, in a way that makes the child uncomfortable.
• Encouraging or forcing a child to touch themselves or someone else in a sexual way.
• Encouraging or forcing a child to make or send videos or photos of themselves or other children in their underwear, partially dressed, or naked.

It is never OK for an adult to engage in sexual activity with a child. It is against the law. 

You have the right to say no to things you don’t like or think are wrong, even if someone tells you that you can’t. A good rule to follow is that if it doesn’t feel right, you should tell someone you trust. Sexual abuse is not part of a normal relationship, it is not a sign of love, and it is never a child’s fault. 

It is never OK and it must be reported to someone.

Someone who plans to sexually abuse a child may start by “grooming” that child, as well as adults around them. This means they will do things that might make it easier to spend time with or talk to the child, or things that will make the child trust them and do what they say.

For example, they might try to spend more time with the child, especially in private, or give them gifts or money.

They might tell the child that their relationship “is a secret”.

Grooming may also involve establishing trust with parents, care givers and other adults who might otherwise question or discourage the attention being shown to the child.

It can be hard to know why someone is doing these things, or even to notice that their behaviour has changed. And not everyone who does these things will be trying to groom the child.

But, whenever something doesn’t feel right, it is important that you tell a trusted adult or another safe person in your life.

Child sexual abuse can happen anywhere: for example, online, in families, or during activities like sport or music lessons.

Children can be abused in places they visit regularly, including at church, school or in community groups.

Sometimes, someone who is a stranger will abuse a child. But most of the time, sexual abuse will be done by someone a child knows and may trust. The abuser could be a family member, neighbour or family friend. Sometimes, the abuse will be done by another child.

Because it’s hard to know the who, where and when of sexual abuse, it’s important to look out for children and young people so that you can note any activity that might be unusual or concerning.

Children can also be sexually abused online either by people they know, or people they don’t know.

Online sexual abuse can include someone sending inappropriate images of themselves to a child, or asking a child to share photos or videos of themselves, including when they’re naked.

Sometimes, a child might do what the person asks at first, and send them a photo or video.

But that person may use what the child has sent to them to bribe or embarrass them into sending more.

If anything like this has ever happened to you or a friend, you should tell a trusted adult.

You won’t be in trouble and you are not alone. A trusted adult will listen to you, believe you, and involve you when they take action.

Find out where to go for help to have an image removed from the internet.

Online sexual abuse can also involve someone talking in sexual ways through online chats, or encouraging a child to meet up with them in real life. Take care with who you interact with online.

Not everyone is who they say they are.

Parents and caregivers can find this situation extremely scary and overwhelming but it’s important not to judge or be reactive. Take the opportunity to sit with your child, listen to them and try to understand what is happening. They may be scared, anxious, defensive, unconcerned or secretive.

This is an opportunity to support, educate and equip them with new skills.

If you have been sexually abused, feel scared or unsafe, or something has happened and you want help from the police, you can call 131 444 or visit your local police station any time.

You can also read through our list of organisations that are set up to support children and young people. These services are confidential and are just a phone call or a web page away. 

Harmful sexual behaviour is a form of child-on-child sexual abuse.

Children develop sexualised behaviours as they grow. Depending on the age of the child or young person, looking, touching, exploring and talking about their bodies and sex is a normal part of development. When a child acts in a way that is more advanced than the behaviour you would expect at that age, these behaviours may be considered problematic or harmful.

Harmful sexual behaviour refers to a broad range of inappropriate sexual behaviour in children and young people, including behaviour that affects their own development, as well as behaviour that is coercive, sexually aggressive or predatory to others.

However, some behaviours that could initially appear harmful may be ok when viewed in context and should be dealt with using an educative approach.

Read the guide on the Berry Street website to better understand what behaviours are age appropriate and what you should be concerned about.

Child sexual exploitation can be hard to see but it’s generally where the perpetrator – who often has some form of power over the child or young person – benefits in some way at the expense of the victim.

Watch the video from the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation to find out more.

This can often be in the form of an inappropriate relationship – where the abuser has physical, emotional or financial power over the victim. The victim may believe they are in a normal relationship, especially when there’s been a lack of positive nurturing adults in the child or young person’s life.

To find out more, visit the Project Paradigm website.

Child sexual exploitation can also occur online. The Australian Federal Police takes online child sexual exploitation very seriously and leads the ThinkUKnow program designed to help prevent this form of abuse by educating children, young people, their parents and caregivers.