Sexual Abuse of Children


“My heart is so small it’s almost invisible. How can You place such big sorrows in it? “Look,” He answered, “your eyes are even smaller, yet they behold the world.”
― Rumi

When a child or young person is sexually abused, they’re forced or tricked into sexual activities. They might not understand that what’s happening is abuse or that it’s wrong. And they might be afraid to tell someone. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere – and it can happen in person or online. It’s never a child’s fault they were sexually abused – it’s important to make sure children know this.

The majority of perpetrators are someone the child or family knows. As many as 93 percent of victims under the age of 18 know the abuser. A perpetrator does not have to be an adult to harm a child. They can have any relationship to the child including an older sibling or playmate, family member, a teacher, a coach or instructor, a caretaker, or the parent of another child. 

Types of sexual abuse

There are 2 types of sexual abuse – contact and non-contact abuse. And sexual abuse can happen in person or online.

1.Contact abuse is where an abuser makes physical contact with a child. This includes:

  • Sexual touching of any part of a child’s body, whether they’re clothed or not
  • Using a body part or object to rape or penetrate a child
  • Forcing a child to take part in sexual activities
  • Making a child undress or touch someone else.
  • Kissing and oral sex – sexual abuse isn’t just penetrative.

2. Non-contact abuse is where a child is abused without being touched by the abuser. This can be in person or online and includes:

  • Exposing or flashing
  • Showing pornography
  • Exposing a child to sexual acts
  • Making them masturbate
  • Forcing a child to make, view or share child abuse images or videos
  • Making, viewing or distributing child abuse images or videos
  • Forcing a child to take part in sexual activities or conversations online or through a smartphone.

Both boys and girls can be victims of sexual abuse, but girls are more likely to be abused.

What are the signs that a child is being sexually abused?

Children often do not talk about sexual abuse because they think it is their fault or they have been convinced by their abuser that it is normal or a “special secret”. Children may also be bribed or threatened by their abuser, or told they will not be believed. A child who is being sexually abused may care for their abuser and worry about getting them into trouble.

Here are some of the signs you may notice:

  • Changes in behaviour – a child may start being aggressive, withdrawn, clingy, have difficulties sleeping, have regular nightmares or start wetting the bed.
  • Avoiding the abuser – the child may dislike or seem afraid of a particular person and try to avoid spending time alone with them.
  • Sexually inappropriate behaviour – children who have been abused may behave in sexually inappropriate ways or use sexually explicit language.
  • Physical problems – the child may develop health problems, including soreness in the genital and anal areas or sexually transmitted infections, or they may become pregnant.
  • Problems at school – an abused child may have difficulty concentrating and learning, and their grades may start to drop.
  • Giving clues – children may also drop hints and clues that the abuse is happening without revealing it outright.

If a child reveals abuse

If a child talks to you about sexual abuse it’s important to:

  • Listen carefully to what they’re saying
  • Let them know they’ve done the right thing by telling you
  • Tell them it’s not their fault
  • Say you’ll take them seriously
  • Don’t confront the alleged abuser
  • Explain what you’ll do next
  • Report what the child has told you as soon as possible.

How do I report child sexual abuse?

It’s best not to delay if you suspect a child is being sexually abused.

You can talk directly to the police by dialing 111 and / or your local children’s social services Oranga Tamariki freephone is 0508 326 459 and your call can be anonymous. Or you can report child abuse to Oranga Tamariki  via email

If you are a health professional and suspect a child you are caring for is experiencing abuse or is at risk of abuse, you can seek advice from the “named nurse” or “named doctor” in your hospital or care setting.

Harmful Sexual Behaviour Service Providers

If you are concerned about your own thoughts or behaviour towards children, you can phone in confidence:

Wellstop Network: Community-based specialist clinical assessment and intervention service in New Zealand for those with concerning and harmful sexual behaviour. Services in Lower North Island.

Safe Network: Community-based specialist clinical assessment and intervention service in New Zealand for those with concerning and harmful sexual behaviour. Services in upper North Island.

Stop: Community-based assessment and intervention services for adolescents and adults who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviour and for children with concerning sexual behaviours. Services are based in Christchurch, Nelson, Dunedin and Invercargill

Korowai Tumanako: A Kaupapa Māori service designed to support iwi, hapu and whānau who have been affected by sexual violence. They offer sexual violence prevention education and support to whānau, supervision and training and treatment for young people and adults who have participated in harmful sexual behaviour.