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If you’re an adult who experienced sexual violence as a child or a parent whose child experienced sexual violence, you are not alone. In Australia, around 25% of girls and between 10 to 15% of boys aged 15 years or under have experienced sexual violence. Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse that includes sexual activity with a minor. A child cannot consent to any form of sexual activity, period.

What are the warning signs?

Child sexual abuse isn’t always easy to spot. The perpetrator could be someone you’ve known a long time or trust, which may make it even harder to notice. Consider the following warning signs:

Physical signs:

  • Difficulty walking or sitting;
  • Bloody, torn, or stained underclothes;
  • Bleeding, bruises, or swelling in genital area;
  • Pain, itching, or burning in genital area;
  • Frequent urinary or yeast infections;

Behavioral signs:

  • Shrinks away or seems threatened by physical contact;
  • Exhibits signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder;
  • Expresses suicidal thoughts, especially in adolescents;
  • Self-harms;
  • Develops phobias;
  • Has trouble in school, such as absences or drops in grades;
  • Changes in hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively;
  • Returns to regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking;
  • Runs away from home or school;
  • Overly protective and concerned for siblings, or assumes a caretaker role;
  • Nightmares or bed-wetting;
  • Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors.

Why Children do not often tell?

There are plenty of reasons why many children will not tell, some of them may be:

  • The child may be afraid to tell;
  • The offender may have made threats to them;
  • The child may be afraid that no one will believe them;
  • The child may feel that no one cares;
  • The child might be worried about getting into trouble;
  • The child might be worried about getting the perpetrator into trouble;
  • The child might be worried about people knowing;
  • The child might feel too ashamed, embarrassed, confused, or to blame in some way.

How to help children be safe?

  • Encourage children to trust their feelings and tell someone if something feels wrong to them
  • Tell children that their bodies are their own and that no one has the right to touch their body in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or scared  
  • Tell children that if this happens it’s not their fault
  • Tell children that sometimes grownups do things that are not OK and that the grownups can be people they know and trust
  • Tell children that nothing is so awful that they can’t tell someone
  • Teach children the names of their body parts. When children have the words to describe their body parts, they may find it easier to ask questions and express concerns about those body parts.
  • Some parts of the body are private. Let children know that other people shouldn’t touch or look at them. If a healthcare professional has to examine these parts of the body, be present.
  • It’s OK to say “no.” It’s important to let children know they are allowed to say “no” to touches that make them uncomfortable. This message isn’t obvious to children, who are often taught to be obedient and follow the rules. Support your child if they say no, even if it puts you in an uncomfortable position. For example, if your child doesn't want to hug someone at a family gathering, respect their decision to say “no” to this contact.
  • Talk about secrets. Perpetrators will often use secret-keeping to manipulate children. Let children know they can always talk to you, especially if they’ve been told to keep a secret. If they see someone touching another child, they shouldn’t keep this secret, either.

Get Help!

If untreated the impact of sexual violence on children can be devastating. However, recovery is possible and there is help available to assist you.

If you need help, please contact us.

If you are in an emergency, please call 000.