Rape Crisis Scotland helpline: 08088 01 03 02

Child Sexual Abuse

Childhood sexual abuse is any type of sexual assault on a child under 16. The World Health Organisation estimates that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 9 boys are sexually abused in childhood.

Sexual abuse can take many different forms. This may involve physical contact or non-contact acts. They may include:

  • Sexual touching, masturbation or sexual intercourse
  • Sexual talk and showing pornography
  • Watching a child bathe, dress or undress

Research shows that in more than three quarters of cases, the sexual abuse is committed by an adult who the child knows and trusts, rather than a stranger. This can be a relative, family friend or someone in a position of trust. The vast majority of abusers are men, but women are also capable of sexual abuse.

myths about childhood sexual abuse

Myth: If you were abused as a child, you will become an abuser as an adult

Truth: If you consider that 95% of all offenders are male and 5% are female and that 87% of all children abused are female – the figures just don’t add up. This is yet another excuse for shifting responsibility. The only person responsible and to blame is the abuser.

Myth: It’s just a bit of a kiss and cuddle that’s gone too far

Truth: Child abuse is not an expression of love or affection, it is not playful or fun – it is an abuse of a child by an adult in a position of power, trust or authority.

Myth: Children make up stories of abuse and sexual assault

Truth: Children do not make up stories. They do not have the language or the explicit sexual knowledge to describe the abuse unless they have had first hand knowledge of it. To say they falsely accuse their relatives of abuse is another way of covering up the crime – a common threat made by abusers is ‘no one will believe you’.

why do children stay silent?

Children do not always tell someone about their abuse. The NSPCC estimate that 72% of sexually abused children did not tell anyone about the abuse at the time, 27% told someone later, and round 31% still had not told anyone about their experiences by early adulthood.

There are many reasons why they may not feel able to speak out. They may:

  • Not be able to describe or understand what has happened to them
  • Have been threatened with further abuse and violence if they tell
  • Be afraid that no one will believe them
  • Feel it was their fault
  • Want to protect the family or even the abuser facts about childhood sexual abuse

The abuser is always to blame:

  • Children are powerless to stop abuse. You cannot be responsible for consenting to an act you didn’t understand or which you were forced into.
  • No matter how long ago you were abused, your feelings about what happened to you are important. You have the right to be listened to no matter what you want to say about your abuse.
  • We recognise that some children are made or forced to abuse other children as part of their abuse. They often have no choice and are not to blame.

Some possible effects of abuse:

  • Losing self-confidence and self esteem
  • Feeling dirty, ashamed, suicidal, guilty, angry, sad, confused or to blame
  • Being unable to trust people
  • Experiencing difficulty forming relationships
  • Experiencing flashbacks of the abuse

Adult survivors may cope with past abuse by:

  • Self-harming/self-injuring such as cutting, scratching, burning etc.
  • Blocking, forgetting or minimalising the abuse, for example with drug or alcohol misuse.
  • Breaking ties with, or confronting the abuser.
  • Speaking about the past abuse and receiving support or writing about it.

Often survivors feel the need to speak to someone about the effects childhood sexual abuse has had on their lives. Your feelings are individual – no two survivors will feel exactly the same. Talking to someone can help the recovery process.

We offer support to women, young people (aged 12 – 18) and over and all members of the transgender community who have experienced sexual violence at any time in their lives.  Our helpline is covered by Rape Crisis Scotland’s national helpline or at support@ercc.scot.

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