What is Considered Child Sexual Abuse?

If you are not exactly sure what sexual abuse is, you’re not alone. All sexual activity between an adult and a child is sexual abuse. Sexual touching between children can also be sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse between children is often defined as when there is a significant age difference (usually 3 or more years) between the children, or if the children are very different developmentally or size-wise. Sexual abuse does not have to involve penetration, force, pain, or even touching. If an adult engages in any sexual behavior (looking, showing, or touching) with a child to meet the adult’s interest or sexual needs, it is sexual abuse.

Child Sexual Abuse includes harmful contact and non-contact behaviors

Abusive physical contact or touching includes:

  • Touching a child's genitals or private parts for sexual purposes
  • Making a child touch someone else's genitals or play sexual games
  • Putting objects or body parts (like fingers, tongue or penis) inside the vagina, in the mouth or in the anus of a child for sexual purposes

Non-contact sexual abuse includes:

  • Showing pornography to a child
  • Deliberately exposing an adult's genitals to a child
  • Photographing a child in sexual poses
  • Encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts
  • Inappropriately watching a child undress or use the bathroom

Sexually abusive images of children and the Internet

As well as the activities described above, there is also the serious and growing problem of people making and downloading sexual images of children on the Internet. To view sexually abusive images of children is to participate in the abuse of a child, and may cause someone to consider sexual interactions with children as acceptable.

What You Can Do If You See Warning Signs

  • Create a Safety Plan. Don’t wait for “proof” of child sexual abuse.
  • Look for patterns of behavior that make children less safe. Keep track of behaviors that concern you. This Sample Journal Page can be a helpful tool.
  • See our Let’s Talk Guidebook for tips on speaking up whenever you have a concern.
  • If you have questions or would like resources or guidance for responding to a specific situation, call or email our Helpline or visit our Online Help Center.

Remember, the most effective prevention takes place before there’s a child victim to heal or an offender to punish. 123

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