Child Sexual Abuse

What is Child Sexual Abuse?
Warning Signs in Children of Possible Sexual Abuse
What to do if your Child or a Child known to You is a Survivor of Sexual Abuse
Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012
How SNEHA can Help

The term "child" has been defined to mean "any person below the age of eighteen years". (Section 2(1)(d), Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.)

What is Child Sexual Abuse?#

Child Sexual Abuse is the use of a child for sexual gratification by an older or more powerful person. The offender is usually an adult, but could also be a more powerful child. Both girls and boys are vulnerable. Besides being a public health concern, it is a crime punishable by law.

Types of Child Sexual Abuse#

Child Sexual Abuse includes the following Touching and Non-Touching Behaviours (but need not be limited only to these acts).

Touching behaviours include

  • Fondling a child's body for sexual pleasure.
  • Kissing a child with sexual undertones/inclinations.
  • Rubbing genitals against a child's body.
  • Sexually touching a child's body, and specifically private parts (breasts and genitals). Includes encouraging or forcing a child to do likewise.
  • Making a child touch someone else's genitals, or playing sexual ("pants-down") games.
  • Encouraging or forcing a child to masturbate, with the child as either a participant or observer.
  • Encouraging or forcing a child to perform oral sex (mouth-to-genital contact on or by the child).
  • Inserting objects or body parts (like fingers, tongue or penis) inside the vagina, mouth, or anus of a child; includes attempts of these acts.

Non-touching behaviours include

  • Encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts either in person or lowering the bars of privacy.
  • Looking at a child sexually.
  • Exposing one's private body parts to a child (exhibitionism).
  • Watching a child in a state of nudity, such as while undressing, using the bathroom, with or without the child's knowledge (voyeurism).
  • An adult making suggestive comments to the child that are sexual in nature. Commenting on the sexual development of a child.
  • Encouraging or forcing a child to read/watch pornography, giving pornographic material or using the child in pornography.

1: Tulir: Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, Chennai,

2: ibid

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 sexual images of children is to participate in the abuse of a child.

Warning signs in children of possible sexual abuse#

Children often show us rather than tell us that something is upsetting them. There may be many reasons for changes in their behaviour, but if we notice a combination of worrying signs it may be time to call for help or advice.

What to watch out for in children

  • Acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects.
  • Nightmares, sleeping problems.
  • Becoming withdrawn or very clingy.
  • Becoming unusually secretive.
  • Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings and seeming insecure.
  • Regressing to younger behaviours, e.g. bedwetting.
  • Unaccountable fear of particular places or people.
  • Outburst of anger.
  • Changes in eating habits.
  • New adult words for body parts and no obvious source.
  • Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts.
  • Self-harm (cutting, burning or other harmful activities).
  • Physical signs, such as, unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals or mouth, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy.
  • Running away.
  • Not wanting to be alone with a particular child or young person or adult.

Any one sign doesn't mean that a child was or is being sexually abused, but the presence of several suggests that you should begin to ask questions and consider seeking help. Keep in mind that some of these signs can emerge at other times of stress such as:

  • During a divorce.
  • Death of a family member or pet.
  • Problems at school or with friends.
  • Other anxiety-inducing or traumatic events.

Physical warning signs

Physical signs of sexual abuse are rare; however, if you see these signs, take your child to a doctor. Your doctor can help you understand what may be happening and test for sexually transmitted diseases.

  • Pain, swelling, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth.
  • Discomfort when walking.
  • Bruises on the body.
  • Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements.
  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training.

#Source: Parent's Protect, UK

What to do if your child or a child known to you is a survivor of sexual assault

  • Believe your child!
  • Behave normally and make the child feel comfortable.
  • Communicate to the child that it is not his/her fault.
  • Inform your child that you will not divulge what they have shared with you in confidence. However, you need to inform the child that you might need to take action against the perpetrator, so as to ensure the child's safety.
  • Prepare the child for proceedings that might follow, such as a visit to the doctor or hospital for medical aid or an examination;visits from the police; sessions with a counsellor.
  • If your child reports the incident to you immediately, do not change the child’s clothes or give him/her a bath. This is important to follow so as to preserve any evidence.
  • Take the child to the nearest hospital for a medical check-up and treatment.
  • Alert the nearest police station to the incident or the abuse. You need to register a complaint at the police station closest to where the child lives. After the complaint is filed, the policewill take the child’s statement at the child’s home or in any place where the child feels safe.
  • Even if the incident(s) has taken place more than 24 hours before you find out about it, you can still take legal action.
  • If you are not comfortable handling the situation on your own, you can contact an NGO like SNEHA for information, support and guidance on how to proceed.
  • Take your child to a professional counsellor for help. SNEHA offers counselling services for women and children facing violence. (For details, see below).
  • You could contact 1098: a 24-hour helpline run by CHILDLINE to report sexual or any other form of abuse against a child.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act), was enacted to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and to provide a child-friendly system for the trial of these offences. The Act provides for seven specific sexual offences against children (including non-touching behaviours) and stipulates child-friendly legal procedures that must be adhered to during investigation and trial. The Act does not recognise sexual autonomy of children in any form. Children can also be held liable for committing sexual offences under the Act. As a result, sexual interactions or intimacies among or with children below the age of 18 years constitute an offence. (Source: CCL-NLSIU, 2013;

How SNEHA can help if you know a child who is being sexually abused

  • SNEHA provides immediate support at the time of the crisis. Visit our Contact Us page for details.
  • We provide counselling to the child survivor and the family.
  • We will also help to register the case under the prevailing law: The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. (See note above).
  • We help organise shelter for the child, if necessary.
  • We assist in follow-up of the court matter till the completion of the legal case.

SNEHA ensures confidentiality of the child and the family.