Sexual Abuse

Page setting out a definition of sexual abuse and possible signs and symptoms.

Any child may be deemed to have been sexually abused when any person(s), by design or neglect, exploits the child, directly or indirectly, in any activity intended to lead to the sexual arousal or other forms of gratification of that person or any other person(s) including organised networks. This definition holds whether or not there has been genital contact and whether or not the child is said to have initiated the behaviour.

Scottish Office Guidance 1998

Sexual abuse may include activities such as incest, rape, sodomy or intercourse with children; lewd practices or behaviour towards children; encouraging children to witness intercourse or pornographic materials; or the sexual exploitation of children. 

Activities involving sexual exploitation, particularly between young people may be indicated by the presence of one or more of the following characteristics-

This area of work is made more complicated by the general lack of physical evidence and the lack of corroboration available to support children's accounts of events.

Staff must be aware of restricting assessment of significant harm only to physical outcomes -  he didn't hurt her", he only touched her gently", he didn't even touch her, just looked at her" are not acceptable denials of significant harm.  Even non-physical forms of sexual abuse cause very significant harm to children.

A key factor is familial responsibility and motivation. If the motivation is to heighten the adult's own gratification by including children in sexual activity, then that generates harm.

Indicators of sexual abuse

Children can make statements either spontaneously or in a planned way and this is often dependent on their age.  The following indicators should alert workers to the possibility of the child being the victim of sexual abuse:

Physical indicators:

General indicators:

This page was added to the website on 2 July 2015