Protecting children from sexual abuse

Last updated: 05 Oct 2021

Child sexual abuse (CSA) is when a child is forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities. This may involve physical contact or non-contact activities and can happen online or offline (Department for Education, 2018; Department of Health 2017; Scottish Government, 2021a; Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board, 2020). Children and young people may not always understand that they are being sexually abused. 

Contact abuse involves activities where an abuser makes physical contact with a child. It includes:

  • sexual touching of any part of the body, whether the child is wearing clothes or not
  • forcing or encouraging a child to take part in sexual activity
  • making a child take their clothes off or touch someone else's genitals 
  • rape or penetration by putting an object or body part inside a child's mouth, vagina or anus.

Non-contact abuse involves activities where there is no physical contact. It includes:

  • flashing at a child
  • encouraging or forcing a child to watch or hear sexual acts
  • not taking proper measures to prevent a child being exposed to sexual activities by others
  • making a child masturbate while others watch
  • persuading a child to make, view or distribute child abuse images (such as performing sexual acts over the internet, sexting or showing pornography to a child)
  • making, viewing or distributing child abuse images 
  • allowing someone else to make, view or distribute child abuse images
  • meeting a child following grooming with the intent of abusing them (even if abuse did not take place)
  • sexually exploiting a child for money, power or status (child sexual exploitation).

> Find out more about child sexual exploitation

> Read our statistics briefing to find out what data and statistics are available about child sexual abuse


Impact of child sexual abuse

Experiencing sexual abuse can have a long-lasting negative impact on a child’s wellbeing that can reach into adulthood. Effects include:

  • mental health issues – such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression
  • challenging behaviour – such as substance misuse, sexualised behaviour, offending
  • relationship problems – for example intimacy issues, having unstable relationships
  • being vulnerable to further sexual abuse or other types of abuse

(Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, 2017).

> Take our training course to better understand child brain development and the impact of trauma

Impact of online sexual abuse

Research suggests that online child sexual abuse can have as much of an impact on a child as abuse that only takes place offline and can lead to the same psychological difficulties (Hamilton-Giachritsis et al, 2017).

> Find out more about online abuse

Brain development

Trauma and adverse experiences, such as sexual abuse, can negatively affect the development of a child’s brain. Abuse may alter brain architecture, lead to heightened stress responses and weaken cognitive development.

(Shonkoff et al, 2008; Shonkoff et al, 2014).

> Find out more about the effects of trauma and abuse on child brain development


Recognising child sexual abuse

Signs and indicators

Not all children will realise they are being sexually abused, particularly if they have been groomed. But there may be physical, behavioural and emotional signs that indicate a child has experienced sexual abuse.

Physical indicators include:

  • bruising
  • bleeding
  • discharge
  • pain or soreness in the genital or anal area
  • sexually transmitted infections (Lindon and Webb, 2016).

Pregnancy at a young age can also be an indicator of sexual abuse.

Emotional and behavioural indicators include:

  • being afraid of and/or avoiding a particular person (including a family member or friend)
  • having nightmares or bed-wetting
  • being withdrawn
  • alluding to ‘secrets’
  • self-harming
  • running away from home
  • developing eating problems
  • displaying sexualised behaviour or having sexual knowledge that’s inappropriate for their stage of development
  • misusing drugs or alcohol (Lindon and Webb, 2016).

Our Childline service offers support and advice to children and young people who have been sexually abused. One young person told us about how it affected them:

"I’m feeling quite depressed and am so numb that I’ve started cutting myself. I was sexually abused by my dad for many years and although it’s stopped now I have really nasty dreams about being abused, and wake up in the night with flashbacks."

Gender unknown, secondary school age (NSPCC, 2016a)

Risk and vulnerability factors

Any child or young person could potentially experience sexual abuse – but some groups of children may be more at risk:

  • disabled children (Jones et al, 2012)
  • girls aged between 15 and 17 years (Radford et al, 2011)
  • children who have experienced other forms of abuse (Finkelhor, Ormrod, and Turner, 2007).

> Find out more about safeguarding D/deaf and disabled children

> For information about adolescents’ experiences of abuse see our How safe are our children? report for 2020

Who sexually abuses children?

Child sexual abuse is committed by men, women, teenagers and other children. Offenders come from all parts of society and all backgrounds. They often seem ‘normal’ to others and in many cases their friends, relatives and co-workers find it hard to believe that they have abused a child.

Relationship between the child and their abuser

Many children who have experienced sexual abuse were abused by someone they know. This may be:

  • a member of their family
  • a friend
  • an adult who has sought out and targeted them as a potential victim.

Perpetrators of child sexual abuse may look for weak spots in a family, community or organisation so they can gain unsupervised access to children. They often plan the abuse in advance and start grooming the child, the child’s family and the child’s environment. The victim may believe they have a sincere or loving relationship with their abuser and their family and friends may trust and respect the abuser.

Research suggests that child sexual abuse can be carried out in different ways.

  • Inappropriate relationships where an older abuser has some kind of power over the child. This could be physical, emotional or financial.
  • The “boyfriend” model involves the abuser grooming the child by exchanging gifts and other normal dating activities. The child may think they are in a conventional relationship.
  • Organised exploitation and trafficking where children are abused by more than one adult as part of a network. The child may be forced or manipulated into taking part in sexual acts with other people. Organised exploitation may involve the movement of victims into and across the country, as well as exchanging images of child abuse (Dagon, 2012; Pemberton, 2011).

> Find out more about child sexual exploitation

> Find out more about child trafficking and modern slavery

> Find out more about grooming


Responding to child sexual abuse


If you think a child is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999. If you're worried about a child but they are not in immediate danger, you should share your concerns.

  • Follow your organisational child protection procedures. Organisations that work with children and families must have safeguarding policies and procedures in place.
  • Contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or by emailing Our trained professionals will talk through your concerns with you and give you expert advice. 
  • Contact your local child protection services. Their contact details can be found on the website for the local authority the child lives in. 
  • Contact the police.

Services will risk assess the situation and take action to protect the child as appropriate either through statutory involvement or other support. This may include making a referral to the local authority.

> See our information about recognising and responding to abuse


Most sexual abuse isn’t reported, detected or prosecuted. This may be because adults in the child's life do not recognise the signs that they are being abused, the child may not understand what's happening to them is abuse or may be too afraid to speak out.

When assessing a child who has been sexually abused, it’s important to focus on the child’s individual needs.

  • Listen to the child’s point of view.
  • Ensure the child knows they are taken seriously and that they will be protected. Make it clear that abuse is never a child’s fault.
  • Include children in making decisions that affect them.
  • Remember that children don’t always respond to direct questions and may not have the words to describe their experience or its impact.
  • Identify the child's support network. Do this with the child where possible.
  • Assess parents’ and carers’ ability to protect the child from further abuse.
  • Identify roles and responsibilities of all professionals involved with the child, and follow agreed procedures to share information about child protection concerns.

Preventing child sexual abuse

Creating safer environments

Using a contextual safeguarding approach to prevent child sexual abuse allows adults to think about the places where abuse might happen outside of the home and take action to mitigate potential risks in each location (Firmin, 2017).

Physical environments

Young people are likely to spend time in environments with little or no adult supervision. It’s important to consider the risks posed to young people in these areas. Keep children safe by checking regularly on areas that are infrequently used or left unsupervised, such as quiet corridors or outdoor spaces. Also ensure all areas are well lit.

Online environments

Children can be vulnerable to sexual abuse and inappropriate content in the online world. There are actions parents, carers and organisations can take to keep online spaces safe for children. It's also important children are given the knowledge and skills needed to keep themselves safe online, to build their own resilience.

> Find out more about preventing online abuse 

People who work or volunteer with children

Follow safer recruitment practices to ensure that only suitable adults work with children and that everyone working or volunteering with children has regular child protection training so they know the signs of sexual abuse and how to respond appropriately.

> Find out more about safer recruitment

Empowering children and parents

It’s important that parents and carers know how to keep their children safe. They need to know what questions to ask about the people who are working with children and be able to have conversations with their children about difficult topics.

We evaluated the Protecting Parents Across Communities programme (PPAC), which was run by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation from June 2009 to June 2012. It aimed to work with non-English speaking communities to prevent child sexual abuse in the home. We found that working directly with community members helps professionals to identify local risks and that if child sexual abuse prevention programmes are to be successful, they need to help parents overcome challenges to identifying risk and taking action.

That’s why we’ve been working with communities across the UK to develop campaigns that raise awareness of child sexual abuse to young people, parents, the public and professionals.

> Learn more about how we can help you launch a campaign specific to your local area

> Find out what else we learned about the community approach to preventing child sexual abuse in the home

Talking to children about sexual abuse

Talking PANTS is a simple way to talk to children as young as four about the underwear rule and encourage them to speak out if someone touches them inappropriately.

We’ve created resources for parents, schools and the early years and childcare sector.

> See the PANTS resources for schools and teachers

> Find Talk PANTS resources for parents on the NSPCC website

It's important to have ongoing discussions with children and young people about relationships. This gives you the opportunity to promote healthy behaviours and let young people know you are there for them if they ever need support.

> Find out more about promoting healthy relationships

> Read our guidance on having difficult conversations with children and young people

Children may not always be aware that they are in an unhealthy relationship, particularly if they are being groomed. Make sure you are able to recognise the signs of sexual abuse and respond appropriately.

Speaking out

It’s vital to build safe and trusting relationships with children so they can speak out about any problems they are experiencing. This involves teaching children what abuse is and how they can get help.

Our Speak out Stay safe service for schools helps children understand abuse in all its forms and know how to protect themselves.

> Find out more about Speak Out Stay Safe

Direct work

Direct work with children who have experienced child sexual abuse

Supporting children who have been sexually abused

When working with children who have experienced sexual abuse, it’s important to:

  • build confidence and trust
  • ask the child what their interests are and build activities around these
  • see the child as an individual – tailor activities to their needs, abilities, likes and dislikes
  • set agreements about how you'll work together so the child knows what to expect
  • make sure the child knows you can help them (without promising more than you can deliver)
  • establish rules about confidentiality. Let the child know that everything they say in sessions is kept private – unless, they or another child is at risk of harm.

> See more tips from our Someone to lean on guide

Watch young people talking about their experiences of moving on after sexual abuse

Working with parents and carers whose child has been sexually abused

Parents react in different ways to the abuse of their child. They may experience denial, anger, guilt and/or depression. They need help to support their child and recover as a family. When working with parents, it’s important to:

  • be positive about the potential for children to recover
  • be clear about parents’ essential role supporting their child now and after therapy ends
  • stress the importance of listening to, taking seriously, supporting and protecting the child
  • help parents understand their child's needs and give advice on the best way to meet them
  • remember that parents may have been groomed too – make it clear that what happened isn’t their fault
  • refer parents on to specialist support if needed.

Our therapeutic services can help children who have been sexually abused move forward.

Letting the Future In (LTFI) is an evidence-based programme helping children who have been sexually abused get back on track. The programme has also been adapted for children age 4-19 with a disability.

We evaluated LTFI and learned that it resulted in positive changes for children, including:

  • improved mood
  • better confidence
  • reduction in guilt and self-blame
  • reduced depression, anxiety and anger
  • improved sleep patterns
  • better understanding of appropriate sexual behaviour (NSPCC, 2016b).

We’re supporting other organisations to deliver Letting the Future In. This includes successfully training social care professionals to deliver therapeutic work.

> Find out more about Letting the Future In

Legislation, policy and guidance

Legislation and guidance on child sexual abuse

Statutory guidance across the UK highlights the responsibility of those in the education, community and care sectors to safeguard children from all forms of abuse and neglect.

Key legislation

The key legislation relating to child sexual abuse in England and Wales is the Sexual Offences Act 2003

In Northern Ireland it is the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008

In Scotland it is the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 and the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005.

Age of consent

The age of consent (the legal age when people can have sex) in the UK is 16 years old. The law is there to protect children from abuse or exploitation, rather than to prosecute under-16s who participate in mutually consenting sexual activity.

The law says anyone under the age of 13 can never legally give consent.

Protecting children from sexual abuse

In all countries of the UK it is illegal to:

  • have sexual activity with a child aged under 16
  • cause or incite a child aged under 16 to engage in sexual activity
  • engage in sexual activity in the presence of a child aged under 16
  • cause a child aged under 16 to watch a sexual act
  • arrange or facilitate a child sex offence
  • have sexual activity with a child family member aged under 18
  • sexually exploit a child aged under 18 (including paying for or arranging sexual services of a child).

> Find out more about child sexual exploitation


Across the UK, it is a criminal offence to meet, or arrange to meet, a child following sexual grooming.

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, the offence applies to anyone over 18 who grooms anyone under 16.

In Scotland, the offence applies to anyone who grooms a child under 13, and anyone over 16 who grooms a child aged 13-15.

> Learn more about grooming

Indecent images of children

Across the UK it is illegal to take, make or have indecent photographs of children aged under 18.

> Find out more about the legislation on sharing indecent images of children

Sexual communication with a child

In England and Wales, part 67 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 makes it a criminal offence for an adult to engage in sexual communication with a child aged under 16. This includes communication that relates to sexual activity and communication for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification (for example, grooming for sexual abuse).

In Northern Ireland, it is illegal for an adult to have sexual communication with a child aged under 16, under section 90 of the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2015.

In Scotland, section 24 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 makes it illegal for anyone of any age to have sexual communication with a child aged under 13. Section 34 of the Act makes it illegal for anyone aged over 16 to have sexual communication with a child aged 13-15.

Positions of trust

It is illegal for a person in a position of trust (for example teachers or care workers) to engage in sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18 who is in the care of their organisation – even if they are over 16.

> Find out more about the legislation on abuse in positions of trust

Prosecuting and monitoring sex offenders

Each nation has a legislative framework to protect children from adults who may pose a risk of sexual harm and to deal with adults who have sexually offended against children.

The Home Office provides guidance on the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (Home Office, 2004). Part 1 explains the different sexual offences and their maximum penalties. Part 2 provides guidance for police and practitioners on the notification requirements for registered sex offenders, Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHPOs) and Sexual Risk Orders (SROs) (Home Office, 2018).

In England and Wales, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) provides guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse (CPS, 2020).

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Justice provides guidance for the police (PDF) on the notification requirements which apply to sex offenders (Department of Justice, 2014).

Police Scotland provides guidance on the Sex offender notification requirements (Police Scotland, 2018).

Child sex offender disclosure schemes

Under the Child sex offender disclosure scheme (sometimes known as “Sarah’s Law”), anyone in England and Wales can formally ask the police if someone with access to a child has a record for child sexual offences. Police will reveal details confidentially to the person most able to protect the child (usually parents, carers or guardians) if they think it’s in the child’s interests. The child sex offended disclosure scheme guidance is available from the Home Office (Home Office, 2010).

In Northern Ireland the Child protection disclosure arrangements allow members of the public to ask the police for information about a person’s history of sexual and violent criminal offences. The police will only disclose this information if it’s deemed that the person presents a risk to the child. And they will only disclose the information to the person who has responsibility for the child and/or is best placed to safeguard the child (such as a parent or carer) (Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), 2021).

In Scotland, the Sex offender community disclosure scheme allows parents, carers and guardians of children under 18 years old to ask the police if someone who has contact with their child has a record for sexual offences against children, or other offences that could put that child at risk (Police Scotland, 2021).

Risk assessment and information sharing

In England and Wales, Part 13 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 sets out arrangements for assessing risks posed by sexual or violent offenders, which led to the establishment of Multi agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA). The MAPPA guidance sets out the responsibilities of the police, probation trusts and prison service to ensure the successful management of violent and sexual offenders (Ministry of Justice, National Offender Management Service and Her Majesty's Prison Service, 2021).

In Northern Ireland, the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 places a legal requirement on agencies to cooperate and share information to better assess and manage risk posed by sexual or violent offenders. This order led to the establishment of Public protection arrangements (PPANI) (PPANI, 2016) – a non-statutory body designed to help agencies undertake their statutory duties and coordinate their functions to enhance public protection from sexual and violent offenders when they are released from prison into the community.

> Find out more about the PPANI Manual of practice (PDF)

In Scotland, the Management of Offenders etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 sets out arrangements for assessing risks posed by sexual or violent offenders. This led to the establishment of Multi agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA), which sets out the responsibilities of the police, probation trusts and prison service to ensure the successful management of violent and sexual offenders (Scottish Government, 2021b).

Preventing unsuitable adults from working with children

In England and Wales, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 provides the framework for the vetting and barring of people seeking to work with children and vulnerable adults.

In Northern Ireland, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (Northern Ireland) Order 2007 makes provision for checking persons seeking to work with children or vulnerable adults and for barring those considered to be unsuitable for such posts.

In Scotland, the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003 sets out measures to prevent unsuitable adults from working with children, while the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 introduced the offence of employing a barred person in regulated activity.

Children who are convicted of sex offences

Sometimes children may carry out sexual abuse towards someone else. Each nation has guidance about how professionals should respond to this.

> Find out more about the guidance on harmful sexual behaviour

Guidance on medical examinations of children who have been sexually abused

In all four UK nations there is guidance to support practitioners who are carrying out medical examinations of children and young people who have or are thought to have experienced sexual abuse.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has published a Service specification for the clinical evaluation of children and young people who may have been sexually abused. This provides guidance on good practice when carrying out forensic medical examinations on children (RCPCH, 2015).

The Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians (FFLM) has published interim guidance on Child sexual abuse forensic medical examinations. This provides information on the knowledge, skills and attitudes required from medical professionals who undertake the role of examining and caring for children who have or may have experienced sexual abuse (FFLM, 2021).

The Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse (CSA centre) has published an evidence-informed film to help professionals from multi-agency backgrounds understand the role and purpose of a medical examination in situations where child sexual abuse has been disclosed or suspected.

In England and Wales, the Forensic Science Regulator has published guidance on requirements for the assessment, collection and recording of forensic science related evidence during sexual assault examinations (Forensic Science Regulator, 2020). This provides guidance on explaining to a child what will happen during the examination.

Other policy and guidance

In England and Wales, the Home Office has published the Tackling child sexual abuse strategy. The strategy’s three main objectives are to:

  • tackle all forms of child abuse and bring perpetrators to justice
  • prevent offending and re-offending
  • protect and safeguard children and young people and support all victims.

It applies to abuse that takes place online and offline.

The aspects of the strategy that relate to policing and justice apply to both England and Wales. The aspects that relate to health, social care and education apply only to England.

(Home Office, 2021a).

The Home Office has also published a strategy on tackling violence against women and girls (Home Office, 2021b). The elements of the Strategy which relate to crime, policing and justice apply to England and Wales. The elements relating to health, social care, and education apply to England only.

The Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) in London has produced Child house in a box, an interactive toolkit to provide information and advice for those interested in setting up a Child house child sexual abuse service (MOPAC, 2021).

In Northern Ireland, the government has set out its approach to preventing sexual abuse in Stopping domestic and sexual violence and abuse in Northern Ireland: a seven year strategy (PDF) (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and Department of Justice, 2016).

The strategy has five strands.

  • Driving change through co-operation and leadership.
  • Prevention and early intervention.
  • Delivering change through responsive services.
  • Support for victims of domestic and/or sexual violence and abuse.
  • Protection and justice.

The Department of Justice has published the Gillen Review Implementation Plan, which will sets out how the government plans to implement recommendations from the 2019 Gillen Report into review of the law and procedures in serious sexual offences in Northern Ireland. Strategic priority areas for development include support for child victims, including the Child House “Barnhaus” model.

In Scotland, the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 aims to improve the justice system’s response to abusive behaviour and sexual harm. Under the Act, judges must give special information to guide juries in certain sexual offence trials, to challenge any preconceptions jurors may have about how sexual assaults take place.

Sexual offences committed elsewhere in the UK can now be prosecuted in Scottish courts. It also makes it an offence to make or threaten to make an intimate photograph or film of another person public in order to cause them distress.

In Wales, the government has set out its strategy to prevent child sexual abuse, protect children from child sexual abuse and support child victims and survivors of sexual abuse in a national action plan (Welsh Government, 2019).

References and resources

References and resources on child sexual abuse

Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse (CSA Centre) (2019). Understanding medical examinations for child sexual abuse concerns. [Accessed 04/10/2021].

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) (2020) Child sexual abuse: guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse. [Accessed 04/10/2021].

Dagon, D. (2012) Preventing sexual exploitation. Children and Young People Now, 6-19 March: 36.

Department for Education (DfE) (2018) Working together to safeguard children: a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. [Accessed 04/10/2021].

Department of Health (2017) Co-operating to safeguard children and young people in Northern Ireland. Belfast: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and Department of Justice (2016) Stopping domestic and sexual violence and abuse in Northern Ireland: a seven year strategy (PDF). Belfast: DHSSPS.

Department of Justice (2014) Guidance on review of sex offender indefinite notification requirements (PDF). [Accessed 04/10/2021].​

Department of Justice (2020) The Gillen review implementation plan. Belfast: Department of Justice.

Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians (2021) Child sexual abuse forensic medical examinations: interim guidance regarding number of examinations and maintenance of competence. London: Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians.

Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R.K. and Turner, H.A. (2007) Re-victimization patterns in a national longitudinal sample of children and youth. Child abuse and neglect, 31(5): 479-502.

Firmin, C. (2017) Contextual safeguarding: an overview of the operational, strategic and conceptual framework (PDF). University of Bedfordshire: [Luton].

Forensic Science Regulator (2020) Sexual assault examination: requirements for the assessment, collection and recording of forensic science related evidence. Birmingham: Forensic Science Regulator.

Hamilton-Giachritsis, C., et al (2017) "Everyone deserves to be happy and safe": a mixed methods study exploring how online and offline child sexual abuse impact young people and how professionals respond to it (PDF). London: NSPCC.

Home Office (2004) Guidance on part 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. London: Home Office.

Home Office (2010) The child sex offender (CSO) disclosure scheme guidance document (PDF). [London]: Home Office.

Home Office (2018) Guidance on part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. London: Home Office. 

Home Office (2021a) Tackling child sexual abuse strategy. London: Home Office.

Home Office (2021b) Policy paper: tackling violence against women and girls strategy. [Accessed 04/10/2021].

Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) et al. (2017) The impacts of child sexual abuse: a rapid evidence assessment: summary report (PDF). London: Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

Jones, L. et al. (2012) Prevalence and risk of violence against children with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Lancet, 380 (9845): 899-907.

Lindon, J. and Webb, J. (2016) Safeguarding and child protection. 5th ed. London: Hodder Education.

Mayor's Office of Policing and Crime (MOPAC) (2021) Child house in a box toolkit. [Accessed 04/10/2021].

Ministry of Justice, National Offender Management Services and Her Majesty's Prison Service (2021) Multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA): guidance. [Accessed 04/10/2021].

NSPCC (2016a) Getting help: what children tell us about accessing services after sexual abuse. London: NSPCC.

NSPCC (2016b) Letting the Future In: a therapeutic intervention for children affected by sexual abuse and their carers. London: NSPCC.

Pemberton, C. (2011) Disturbing signs. Community Care, 1870: 16-17.

Police Scotland (2018) Sex offender notification requirements: standard operating procedure (PDF). [Edinburgh]: Police Scotland.

Police Scotland (2021) Sex offender community disclosure. [Accessed 04/10/2021].

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) (2018) Child protection disclosure arrangements. [Accessed 04/10/2021].

PPANI (Public Protection Arrangements Northern Ireland) (2016) Manual of practice (revised July 2016) (PDF). [Carrickfergus]: PPANI.

Radford, L. et al. (2011) Child abuse and neglect in the UK today. London: NSPCC.

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) (2015) Service specification for the clinical evaluation of children and young people who may have been sexually abused. London: Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH).

Shonkoff, J.P. et al (2008) The timing and quality of early experiences combine to shape brain architecture working paper 5. Cambridge: Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University. 

Shonkoff, J.P. et al (2014), Excessive stress disrupts the architecture of the developing brain working paper 3. Cambridge: Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University.

Scottish Government (2021a) National guidance for child protection in Scotland. Edinburgh: The Scottish Government.

Scottish Government (2021b) Public protection: multi agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA). [Accessed 04/10/2021].

Welsh Government (2019) Preventing and responding to child sexual abuse: national action plan. [Accessed 04/10/2021].

Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board (2020) Wales safeguarding procedures. [Accessed 04/10/2021].


If a child or young person needs confidential help and advice direct them to Childline. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also contact Childline online or read about sexual abuse on the Childline website. You can also download or order Childline posters and wallet cards.


Our elearning courses can help develop your understanding of how to protect children from abuse:

Related NSPCC resources

Read our learning from case reviews briefings about harmful sexual behaviour, child sexual exploitation and online abuse

Further reading

For further reading about child sexual abuse, search the NSPCC Library catalogue using the keywords "child sexual abuse" "sexually abused children" "sexually abused adolescents" "sex offenders" "sexually abusive people".

> Find out more about the Library and Information Service