Sexual abuse

If you've been sexually abused, or know somebody who has, we're here to help. On this page you'll find information about what you can do, who you can talk to and where to find the support you need.

What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse is when someone is forced, pressurised or tricked into taking part in any kind of sexual activity with another person.

Examples of sexual abuse include:

  • being touched in a way you don't like without giving permission or consent
  • someone flashing or exposing themselves to you online or offline
  • being forced to have sex (intercourse), look at sexual pictures or videos, do something sexual or watch someone do something sexual.

Sexual abuse can include lots of things like rape and sexual assault, sexual harassment, online grooming and domestic abuse or violence

It can also include sexual exploitation (being pressured into having sex with someone in return for getting something like money or drugs), sexting or child pornography.

7 facts about sexual abuse:

  • sexual abuse can happen to both girls and boys
  • someone could be sexually abused by a stranger, somebody you love and trust or a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • someone could be sexually abused by a person of the same sex
  • sexual abuse isn’t always ‘full sex’ – it can also include touching, kissing, oral sex or anything sexual
  • sexual abuse can happen online as well as offline
  • sexual abuse can happen at school or college and someone could be sexually abused by a classmate or a friend
  • you're not alone and there are people who can help you.

Why SEXUAL ABUSE can happen

It's normal to want to know why it can or has happened. It’s nothing to do with who you are, or what you’ve said or done. Some people want to feel power and control.

They know what they’re doing is wrong. They might tell you to keep it a secret or try and make you believe that it’s okay. This is called ‘grooming’ which is a way to build up trust with you so they can keep abusing you. Grooming also happens online.


If you've been sexually abused and you're not sure how to bring it up with someone who could help, try these steps;

  • Pick somebody you trust
    Speaking up about sexual abuse is a brave and difficult thing to do. They could be a grandparent, neighbour, a friend’s parent, teacher, religious leader or doctor. Find out more about asking an adult for help.
  • Write it down
    Talking about abuse can be upsetting but it’s important that you tell them as much as you can about what’s been happening – you could try writing it down in a letter instead.
  • Pick a time
    When you can talk privately with the person you want to tell.
  • Get support
    If you have a close friend, you could ask them to be there when you tell somebody.
  • Understand that it’s NOT your fault
    You may feel ashamed or embarrassed. But you shouldn’t be. And you shouldn’t let that stop you talking to someone you trust.
  • Know that Childline is always here for you
    You can contact us on 0800 1111 and online.

Sexual abuse is one of the hardest things to talk about. It can make you feel afraid, isolated or ashamed. But it's never your fault and it's never too late to tell someone. There are people who can help you. If you're finding it hard to talk about what happened, you can try expressing yourself using our Art box.

Sexual abuse: how we can help

What you can do

Sexual abuse is wrong. It doesn’t matter how many times it happened, how long ago, or whether they were male or female, it's still important that you get the help and support you need. It's never too late to tell somebody.

If it’s happening to you, we can help. Call us on 0800 1111, or talk online on our 1-2-1 counsellor chat. If you call us you could say “somebody is making me do something which I don’t like.” You don’t need to say who it is. The counsellor will want to understand what’s been happening for you and they might ask some questions. But it’s okay to say you don’t want to answer any questions you’re not comfortable with.

Watch: how to spot the signs of online grooming and what to do if you're worried