sexual abuse and rape
What is it?
A child is sexually abused when they are forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities. This doesn't have to be physical contact and it can happen online. Sometimes the child won't understand that what’s happening to them is abuse. They may not even understand that's its wrong and very often they can end up feeling that they have been naughty rather than realising that an adult has been very wrong and they are not to blame.
Rape is the act of sex, either by penetration or oral.
How many children does this affect?
1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused
What could the child/young person feel like?
They sadly often feel dirty, naughty, shame, awkward, embarrassed and very confused. The reason they don't always tell anyone is because they feel so bad and full of shame; they often think or are told that its their fault; or they are threatened with awful things if they dare to tell anyone.
They can push down feelings of anger, disappointment, shock, horror, powerlessness and terror, turmoil, confusion. Their lives are changed.
What are the worst things we could do?
The worst thing to do is to assume that when a child acts in a sexual way that they are naughty or dirty.
Some children and young people can become sexualised due to what happened to them, this does not mean that they provoked or encouraged the horrific experiences but usually are shocked by them but then became aware of things that they shouldn't be aware of. They often don't know if they have been raped or abused and are often told that ‘now you have had sex people will be shocked and tell you off’. They are full of shame and need us to be curious and make them feel safe enough to tell us.
Other children do not act sexualised but bury the experience deep down and hope they can forget it happened. For them they may be frightened of getting changed in public or people being too near them physically. They could be scared of anything.
Another difficult thing that can often occur in churches is when an adult finds out that the child has been abused, is to encourage them to immediately forgive their abuser. Whilst we do not deny the importance of forgiveness for healing, when a child has not even remembered, felt or had their feelings validated about what has happened, any forgiveness will be compliance rather than authentic forgiveness. Please just empathise, care and show clearly that it shouldn’t have happened to them. When they have begun to process the trauma from their body and memories they can begin to think about forgiveness but to ask them or encourage them too early can be harmful.
What are the most helpful things we can do?
They must not be made to feel bad, dirty or different. We must help them feel safe and cared for so that they can feel safe enough to tell us what is happening so that we can get help.
They need an adult that they feel safe with, who they know is aware of their abuse that they did nothing wrong and the person who did it was really really naughty. They need to be reassured that children should never go through things like that and as adults our job is to keep them safe.
We must help them feel safe and cared for so that they can feel safe enough to tell us what is happening so that we can help
Where to find more info or help
This is the churches safeguarding charity that offers advice on safeguarding specific to churches. It has lots of helpful resources and can guide you through safeguarding situations.
This is a specialist sexual abuse therapy centre which has resources on their website. Lifecentre is a faith-based organisation, founded on Christian values, but we offer services to all survivors of rape and sexual abuse on a non-discriminatory basis.
This is a specialist trauma recovery charity set up to enable children and young people aged 3-24 years to have access to specialised trauma therapy. It has five centres in Bath, Bristol, Bradford, Guernsey and Oxford.
This charity has a lot of resources about sexual abuse and how to support a child.