We have chosen to cover types of abuse most relevant to the lives of children and young people – this is not an exhaustive list. Please be aware that this section describes examples of violence and abuse. Take care of yourself and make use of support available to you.
This page includes definitions, information and resources about:
- Child sexual exploitation
- Domestic violence & Domestic violence in the home
- Intimate partner violence
- Coercive control
- Harmful practices – female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage, and so-called ‘honour-based’ violence (HBV)
- Sexual violence
- Public sexual harassment
- Sexual harassment and abuse in schools
- Harmful sexual behaviour
- Technology facilitated abuse
Child Sexual Exploitation
Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of child sexual abuse (CSA) that involves the exploitation of children by an individual or group. It doesn’t always look the same, which is why it can be difficult for professionals to identify but it is always an abuse of power.
When talking to young people about CSE it might be useful to think about exploitation as an exchange – for example, the young person receives affection or presents in return for performing sexual activities, or others performing sexual activities on them.
with 12 to 15 year old girls making up 39% of all victims.’
CSE sometimes happens in stages. This is often referred to as grooming and it can look like:
- Identifying and isolating a child or young person. Some children are more at risk than others, including children in care and children with learning disabilities.
- Making a child feel special and gaining their trust. The perpetrator identifies what the child is lacking (e.g. shelter, affection or protection) and meets this need.
- Making the ‘relationship’ sexual and age-inappropriate. Sometimes the child will be made to believe they are in a consensual relationship with their abuser.
- Making threats and withdrawing affection. Coercing a child and making them afraid; preventing them from telling anyone.
- It can happen online or in person – it doesn’t always involve physical contact.
- Most children know the person abusing them.
- The child or young person might not realise they are being exploited.
- It is not the child’s fault and they won’t be in trouble for speaking out.
Further information and support:
For more information you can visit the CSE and grooming sections of the NSPCC website. Other organisations that can help include Barnardo’s and The Children’s Society. Both run services for children and young people across the UK.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP) is part of the National Crime Agency. If you are concerned a child is being groomed online you can make a report via their website.
Young people can experience domestic violence (DV) and abuse in multiple ways. 1. They might experience DV within the family home and be harmed by the adult perpetrator of that abuse, 2. They might experience abuse within their own intimate or romantic relationships, 3. They might cause harm to someone else – their partner or family members. Some young people might experience DV in more than one of these ways.
Domestic violence in the home
Domestic violence and abuse within the home has a serious impact on children’s welfare and increases the risk of harm to the child or young person. It can have long-lasting adverse effects into adulthood. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 recognised children as victims in their own right.
One of the many reasons for involving parents and carers in a WSA is the potential to prevent this harm. Research into the needs of children affected by DV found that their two primary needs are to be safe and to have someone to talk to.
Intimate partner violence
The government’s definition of domestic abuse only applies to those aged 16 or over. Whilst statutory guidance acknowledges that young people, ‘can experience domestic abuse within their relationships’, for those under 16 relationship abuse is currently classed as child abuse. In reality, young people experience the highest rate of domestic violence of any age group and ‘the likelihood of experiencing high severity abuse is no different to adults’.
- 41% if UK girls aged 14-17 in an intimate relationship have experienced some form of sexual violence from their partner.
Supporting children, from a young age, to know the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship is one of the most important things we can do to prevent young people from experiencing abuse within their romantic relationships. Teaching them about early warning signs helps them to identify abuse as it begins and before it escalates.
- One in two young women have experienced controlling behaviour in an intimate relationship.
Domestic violence doesn’t always take place within the home and isn’t always physical. Coercive control is now a criminal offence and can be defined as, ‘an act or a pattern of acts of assaults, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim.’
Brook have produced this ‘Healthy Relationships: Resources for Professionals’
The NSPCC’s ‘Promoting healthy relationships’ resource includes tips for talking to children and young people about healthy relationships, from early years, for 5-11 year olds, and 12-18 year olds.
Harmful practices is an umbrella term used to describe female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage, and so-called ‘honour-based’ violence (HBV) – forms of violence that have become culturally normalised. They are a violation of children’s human rights and, like all forms of gender-based violence (GBV), they are a consequence of gender inequality.
Government guidance on Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) makes it compulsory for secondary schools to teach students about harmful practices. When talking to young people about harmful practices it’s important we don’t make assumptions, ‘otherise’, or stereotype cultures and communities. Harmful practices disproportionately impacts Black and global majority young women, but occur across nationalities, ethnicities and religions.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a practice that involves harm to and the removal of a girl’s external genitals. It is sometimes referred to as ‘cutting’ and it is illegal in the UK. It has no health benefits and can cause short-term and long-lasting physical, emotional and psychological trauma. 137,000 women and girls are living with the consequences of FGM in the UK. FORWARD are FGM specialists and have produced this guide for young people.
Although teaching FGM in primary settings is optional, the National FGM Centre recommends all schools teach about the topic ‘from the earliest opportunity…to identify and protect girls at risk earlier and to speak out about the issue’. They have also developed the following guidance for schools: ‘Understanding your role in safeguarding girls, engaging parents and teaching about FGM.’
A forced marriage is when one or both people do not consent, or cannot consent, to a marriage. Young people might feel pressured or threatened, physically or emotionally, into a marriage they don’t want or might not realise they are going to be married. Under the age of 18 any marriage is considered a forced marriage, which is illegal. This includes being taken abroad to be married.
“I wanted my freedom, I was still a child.”
Forced marriages are not the same as arranged marriages. In an arranged marriage, family members match a couple but both people have a choice about whether or not to agree to the marriage. Every major faith condemns forced marriage and it cannot be justified on religious grounds. Forced marriage protection orders (FMPO) can prevent children and young people from being taken out of the UK to be married. You can find more information about FMPO here.
You can find out more about child and forced marriage here.
‘Honour’ Based Violence (HBV)
So-called ‘honour’ based violence (HBV) has no universally agreed definition. It covers a wide range of abuse carried out in the name of so-called ‘honour’. Young people who experience HBV are often perceived to have brought shame or dishonour on their family or community by stepping outside of what is considered ‘acceptable’, or breaking a code of honour.
- Victims of ‘honour’ based abuse are seven times more likely to experience abuse from multiple perpetrators.
A young person subject to HBV is considered at significant risk because it is more likely there will be multiple perpetrators. LGBTQIA+ young people can be additionally vulnerable to HBV. 68% of victims at risk of HBV were at high risk of serious harm or suicide.
Sexual violence and abuse takes many different forms and includes street harassment, sexual assault and rape.
Public Sexual Harassment (PSH)
PSH is defined by Our Streets Now as ‘unwelcome and unwanted attention, sexual advances and intimidating behaviour that occurs in public spaces, both in person and online’ and ‘usually directed towards women and oppressed groups within society’. Sexual harassment is a racialised issue, as demonstated by this powerful film, ‘I’d just like to be free’.
“My experiences are different as a Black woman than they are for my white friends.”
Sexual harassment and abuse in schools
As was highlighted by the tens of thousands of testimony posted to Everyone’s Invited, sexual harassment and abuse in schools and colleges is endemic, has become become normalised and is often overlooked. You can read more Survivor Testimonies here.
“In years 9-10 one boy in particular would always stare at me and make inappropriate comments, and push my pens off the table, so I had no choice but to go down and grab them and he’d slap or reach out and touch my bum. No one ever said anything about it, and I didn’t realise until later how violated it made me feel when I googled what sexual abuse meant and realised it was this.”
In order to address it staff and students need to be able to recognise when it is happening. It can include:
- Sexist name-calling, comments or noises.
- Sexual jokes, rape jokes
- Unwanted staring or looking
- Commenting on someone’s body, appearance or what they are wearing.
- Unwanted sexual touching – including brushing up against someone, grabbing, hugging or kissing them.
- Unwanted sexual flirting
- Sending unwanted images or videos.
- Rumours about other people’s sexual activity.
In 2023 The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) created this short film to highlight the prevalence and impact of sexual harassment and abuse in schools.
Learn more about rape culture and what staff can do to change it here.
Harmful sexual behaviour (HSB)
‘Addressing inappropriate behaviour can be an important intervention that helps prevent problematic, abusive and/or violent behaviour in the future.’
Harmful sexual behaviour is developmentally inappropriate sexual behaviour displayed by children and young people which is harmful or abusive. Peer-on-peer abuse is a form of HSB. It is estimated that a third of all sexual abuse that children experience is committed by other children. As professionals it’s important to create a safe environment for children and young people to talk about anything that is making them feel uncomfortable, especially because children may not always comprehend that what they are doing or have experienced is harmful.
In 2020 a briefing from a two year study into HSB published a number of recommendations for schools, including:
- Engaging students in small group sessions to discuss different forms of HSB.
- Providing staff with clear referral structures and systems to raise concerns of HSB.
- Considering if it is safe for students to disclose and, if not, how to address this.
- Taking the victim’s wishes into consideration where possible.
- Reflecting on and training staff in addressing unconscious bias.
- Countering the victim blaming narrative.
- Engaging parents in discussions on sexual harm.
- Improving the knowledge and understanding of HSB and young people with a disability.
The Beyond Referrals self-assessment toolkit is intended to support schools to identify and assess the factors that contribute to addressing HSB in schools.
You can find out more about supporting young people who cause harm here.
The prevalence of sexual violence indicates that we need to be talking to young people about consent from a young age. Talking to children about their boundaries is a building block of education around consent, and a way to ensure the material is age-and stage-appropriate.
At secondary school
A simple definition you can use when talking to young people about consent is:
“If they agree by choice and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice”.
You can also break it down by explaining that when you consent to something happening it means:
- You’re freely choosing for it to happen, because you want it to, and…
- You are able to make that decision for yourself.
This consent checklist was developed by the Young Women’s Service at Women & Girls Network as a way of explaining consent to young people as clearly and comprehensively as possible.
- Freedom. Is the person free to consent? For example, have they been pressured or do they feel afraid?
- Choice. Making an informed decision to engage in sexual activity. This means being aware of and understanding what it is you are agreeing to.
- Capacity. Does the person have the capacity to consent? 1. Are they old enough? 2. Are they sober? 3. Are they conscious?
- Active. Consent is active. This means taking part, responding, showing interest, saying yes. Non-verbal cues can include: kissing and touching you back, smiling and responding with their body.
- Equal Power. Some imbalances between people mean that a sexual relationship can never be healthy and consensual. For example, it is illegal for a person in a position of trust (e.g. youth worker, doctor, teacher) to engage in any sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18, even if consent is given.
- Process. You can change your mind at any time. You can consent to one thing but not another. Consent is ongoing. You can agree to kiss someone but not want to go any further, even if you have in the past.
It is important for young people to understand that for consent to be given everything on the checklist needs to be ‘ticked’. You can remind young people that just because someone hasn’t said no, it doesn’t mean yes. Silence might indicate fear, discomfort or uncertainty.
Consent and the law
- The legal age of consent in the UK is 16 and this applies to everyone – regardless of gender or sexuality – the law is designed to protect young people.
- If a young person is between 13-15 years old and having consensual sex with a partner of a similar age, they should be offered support.
- A child under the age of 13 does not have the capacity to consent to sexual activity – it is illegal.
Technology-facilitated abuse (TFA) includes:
- Cyber or online bullying and harassment
- Online grooming for sexual exploitation
- Sharing explicit or sexual images and videos, without consent.
Sharing nude images or sexting is when someone shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others, or sends sexually explicit messages. They can be sent using mobile phones, tablets, and laptops – any device that allows the sharing of media and messages. Sending nudes to someone under the age of 18 is illegal.
- 40% of young people have sent messages of a sexual nature.
- Over half of young people said images are shared onwards without consent.
- 66% of young women sent nudes because they were pressured into it.
Key messages for young people:
- The law should not be used to punish you – it should be there to protect you from harm.
- Specialist organisations exist to support you around these issues.
- Recovery is possible.
- The NSPCC has an information page on their website dedicated to sharing nudes and semi-nudes.
- The NSPCC also has also created a resource on ‘How to prevent harmful sexual behaviour in children’.
- You can find a summary of Plan International’s report into girls’ and young womens’ experiences of online harassment here.
SafeLives, ‘Safe Young Lives: Young People and domestic abuse’, (2017)
Mullender, A., Hague, G., Imam, U., Kelly, L., Malos, E. and Regan, L., ‘Children’s perspectives on domestic violence’, (SAGE Publications Ltd., 2002).