Child sexual abuse

What is child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse occurs when an adult, adolescent or child use their power or authority to involve a child in sexual activity. Child sexual abuse can cause physical and emotional harm to a child.

Sexual abuse can be physical, verbal or emotional and can include but is not limited to the following:

  • kissing or holding a child in a sexual manner
  • exposing a sexual body part to a child
  • having sexual relations with a child
  • talking in a sexually explicit way that is not age or developmentally appropriate
  • making obscene phone calls or remarks to a child
  • sending obscene mobile text messages or emails to a child
  • fondling a child in a sexual manner
  • persistently intruding on a child’s privacy
  • penetrating the child’s vagina or anus by either the penis, finger or any other object
  • oral sex
  • rape
  • incest
  • showing pornographic films, magazines, internet sites or photographs to a child
  • having a child pose or perform in a sexual manner
  • forcing a child to watch a sexual act
  • child prostitution.

Grooming behaviour of people responsible for the sexual abuse of children

Grooming refers to the process by which some people who are responsible for the sexual abuse of children groom people in the community, such as parents, carers, teachers and children to establish trust and gain access to a child.

Some people who are responsible for the sexual abuse of children spend considerable time targeting, enticing and trapping a child for sexual purposes. Grooming involves the person responsible for the sexual abuse integrating themselves into places where they have access to children and then grooming the adults to create opportunities for the person to abuse their victims. Grooming behaviour can be difficult to identify as it can sometimes include the use of in some contexts, appropriate behaviours. Some examples of grooming behaviour can include a person:

  • regularly offering to babysit a child for free or take a child on overnight outings alone
  • actively isolating a child from other adults or children
  • insisting on physical affection such as kissing, hugging, wrestling or tickling even when the child clearly does not want it
  • being overly interested in the sexual development of a child
  • insisting on uninterrupted time alone with the child
  • enjoying taking lots of pictures of children
  • sharing alcohol or drugs with younger children or adolescents
  • exposing their genitals to a child.

Indicators of sexual abuse

A child may say things, do things or exhibit physical signs that may indicate sexual abuse, even if they do not disclose clear information.

Some indicators of child sexual abuse may include:

  • displaying greater sexual knowledge than normally expected for their age or developmental level
  • inappropriate sexual play and behaviour with themselves, other children or dolls and toys
  • hints about sexual activity through actions or comments that are inappropriate to the child’s age or developmental level
  • excessive masturbation or masturbation in public after kindergarten age
  • persistent bedwetting, urinating or soiling in clothes
  • persistent sexual themes in their drawings or play time
  • running away
  • destroying property
  • hurting or mutilating animals
  • creating stories, poems or artwork about abuse
  • difficulty concentrating or being withdrawn or overly obedient
  • having unexpected redness, soreness or injury around the penis, vagina, mouth or anus
  • having torn, stained or bloody clothing, especially underwear
  • recurring themes of power or control in play.

Should any of the above be present, a child may need parents or other adults to take action to keep them safe from any further harm. Without a disclosure it is important to talk to a sexual abuse specialist about observed behaviours.

Protecting children from sexual abuse

To help protect a child from sexual abuse:

  • be suspicious if an adult wants to spend time alone with your child
  • be wary of people who are overly affectionate or generous with gifts to your child
  • be careful about the company your children keep. Watch children’s behaviour for signs of stress — their reactions to certain individuals may tell you something
  • teach children about being safe in a way that does not frighten them
  • teach children that the parts of their bodies covered by underwear are private
  • teach children anatomical names for body parts, such as penis or vagina
  • encourage children to tell someone they trust if anyone tries to touch their private parts
  • carefully consider who else you might want your children to tell if you are not available — let your children know these contact options
  • speak to children who are under school age about personal safety in simple language and repeat the same rules often — play ‘what if’ games to reinforce the message
  • teach children of primary school age basic family safety rules and how to apply them in potentially dangerous situations
  • assist adolescents to think independently, and to develop decision-making and assertiveness skills
  • know who is supervising your children when they are away from home
  • listen to your children and trust what they say, even if it shocks you — children rarely make up stories about sexual abuse.

Because you cannot be with them all the time

You have a right to know your children are safe. Ask organisations about their policies, activities and who is looking after your children.


  • People who work with children have an obligation to keep them safe.
  • Adults who work with children must have a blue card from the Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian.
  • Organisations should have written policies available to read showing how they respond to child sexual abuse allegations.
  • Organisations must provide activities that are suited to the developmental stage of the children involved.
  • Organisations must supervise all children in their care.

Where to get help

If you would like further information on child sexual abuse, an information booklet is available from Child Safety Services. If you suspect a child has experienced harm, or is at risk of experiencing harm, there are a number of agencies that can provide support and advice.

The Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women

  • Contact the department on 13 QGOV (13 74 68).
  • After business hours, call the Child Safety After-Hours Service Centre, freecall 1800 177 135.
  • Visit Child safety website

Queensland Police Service

The Queensland Police Service has a number of dedicated Child Protection and Investigation Units across the state to investigate criminal matters relating to child abuse. If you have concerns about criminal behaviour, contact your local police station.

In an emergency, call 000.


Parentline is a free, confidential telephone service that provides counselling and referrals. Counsellors are available from 8am to 10pm, seven days a week. Call 1300 30 1300 to speak with a Parentline counsellor.