Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is when you are tricked, forced or pressured into taking part in any sexual activity.

This content has been written for children and young people. If you’re looking for information for over 18s, visit our Types of Crime information about sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse can involve kissing, touching, having sex if you don’t want to, or being made to watch something sexual.

It is important to remember that sexual abuse is never your fault. It can happen to boys and girls, and can leave you feeling confused and scared.

Two girl classmates walking together.

It’s important to remember that sexual abuse is never your fault, and some people abuse others because they want to have power and control over that person. They may make you keep it a secret, or make you feel guilty or ashamed about what has happened. But it is important to remember that you haven’t done anything wrong, and that people can help.

Sexual abuse can happen in many different ways, including:

  • sexual harassment and assault – if you are bullied in a sexual way, or forced to do something sexual with someone
  • rape – if you are forced to have sex, or someone has sex with you without your agreement (consent)
  • grooming – when someone falsely gains your trust to persuade or trick you into doing something sexual with them; this can be online or face-to-face
  • being forced to look at sexual pictures or videos (pornography)
  • being made to watch someone do something sexual, including sexual exploitation and online sexual exploitation.

It is important to remember that if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Sexual abuse can make you feel worried, sad, scared or angry, especially if you feel like you’re trying to deal with this all on your own. However, lots of young people find that it can help if they talk to someone. Some things you can do are:

  • Tell an adult you trust – this could be a teacher, a family member, your youth worker, social worker or support worker. It can be difficult to know how to have this conversation – we have some tips on asking for help.
  • Think about reporting it to the police. If you are at immediate risk of getting hurt, call 999.
  • If it is safe – and the person who is abusing you cannot find it – you might think about writing down what has happened, including times and dates, like a diary. You can show this to your trusted adult or the police if you report it.
  • With a safe adult, you could develop a safety plan that would help you choose how best to keep yourself safe.
  • Talk to your friends. A good friend will listen to you and may help you speak to an adult.

If you are worried about a friend, we have some tips on how you can start the conversation and get them the right help.

You don’t need any proof to talk to someone and ask for help.

It is still important that you get help and support for yourself. Remember to save any emails, texts, and letters from the person that’s abusing you. Even if it happened a long time ago it is never too late to get the help and support you need.

It is still sexual abuse if you have been forced to look at or watch sexual images or videos, or been involved in creating them. If someone has touched themselves in front of you, or asked you to touch yourself in front of them (this can include over the internet), then this is still sexual abuse.

Victim Support’s Children and Young People Services – you can contact your nearest Victim Support office, call the 24/7 Supportline, contact us via live chat, or if you are 16 or older, you can create a My Support Space account. This is a free, safe and secure online space where you can work through interactive guides to help you move forward after crime.

Rape Crisis – support for women and girls who have been raped or experienced sexual violence: 0808 802 9999.

Survivors UK – information and support for men and boys who have been raped or experienced sexual abuse.

Childine – 24-hour support for young people, both on the phone and through online chats and message boards, on physical, sexual and emotional abuse and a range of other issues: 0800 1111.

The Mix – information and support for under 25s on a whole range of issues, including rape and sexual assault as well as safe sexual relationships. Get confidential help by email, text, webchat or phone: 0808 808 4994.