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Signs of sexual abuse in children and young people

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, whether they are aware of what is happening or not.

This may involve physical contact including penetrative sex, oral sex, masturbation, kissing, rubbing, or touching outside of clothing. It may also involve non-contact activities such as involving children in watching sexual activities, producing or looking at sexual images, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Abusers can be men, women or other children.

Young people can also be abused through sexual exploitation. It involves situations and relationships where a person of any age manipulates or forces a child or young person under 18 to perform sexual acts in return for food, somewhere to live, attention, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts or money.

Possible signs that a child is being sexually abused or exploited include:

  • behaving in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects
  • nightmares and sleeping problems
  • becoming withdrawn or very clingy
  • becoming unusually secretive
  • sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings and insecurity
  • regressing to younger behaviours, for example bed wetting
  • unexplained fear of particular places or people
  • appetite loss and sudden changes in eating habits
  • new, adult words for body parts with no obvious source
  • talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts
  • self-mutilation (cutting or burning) in adolescents
  • physical signs, for example unexplained soreness, pain or bruises around genitals or mouth; sexually-transmitted diseases, pregnancy
  • running away
  • not wanting to be alone with a particular adult, child or young person

See also the section on female genital mutilation.

If you are concerned that a young person is experiencing sexual abuse or exploitation you must follow Derby and Derbyshire safeguarding children procedures.

Find a copy of the safeguarding children’s procedures on the Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership website.