What Constitutes Sexual Abuse?

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Sexual abuse is a harsh reality that can happen to anyone. The best way of preventing it is to be aware of what counts as sexual abuse and how it can be dealt with.

What constitutes child sexual abuse?

What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse refers to any sort of non-consensual sexual contact.  Sexual abuse by a partner/intimate can include:

  • Derogatory name calling
  • Refusal to use contraception
  • Deliberately causing unwanted physical pain during sex
  • Deliberately passing on sexual diseases or infections
  • Using objects, toys, or other items (e.g. baby oil or lubricants) without consent and to cause pain or humiliation.

Child sexual abuse is any act directed at a child by an adult or older person for the sexual gratification of the adult or older person. This can include:

  • Exposure to sexual activity or pornography
  • Sexually explicit talk or hint
  • Sexual touch or fondle, clothed or unclothed
  • Encouraging a child to engage in prostitution
  • Rape or attempted rape

Who is at risk of sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse can happen to men or women of any age. Studies have shown that boys are equally at risk as girls.

Some disturbing sexual abuse factsThe law on sexual abuse

It is unfortunate that there is no direct law condemning the heinous act of sexual abuse. There are very few sections under the Indian Penal Code that deal with child sexual abuse. The laws for women are extended to include children. The major weakness of these laws is that only penetration of the penis is considered a grave sexual offence. Although section 377, dealing with unnatural offences, prescribes seven to ten years of imprisonment, such cases can be tried in a magistrates court, which can impose maximum punishment of three years. However there are no laws for offenses that are repeated against a child even though repeated abuse affects the child in a severe manner.

Recognising and preventing child sexual abuse

Sexual Abuse affects children negatively, yet most children don’t report it.

Aware parents, caretakers and children can help prevent child sexual abuse. It’s important to children about ‘Safe’ and ‘Unsafe Touch’ and to say NO to Unsafe Touch. It's also essential to teach children personal safety rules - SAY NO, RUN, TELL, KEEP TELLING.

Parents and caretakers can better help a sexually abused child by

  • Recognizing that the child has been sexually abused
  • Helping the child talk about abuse
  • Seeking professional support to help the child heal

It is very important to remember and remind the child that Sexual Abuse is NOT the child’s fault. Parents need to be compassionate, patient and encouraging. It is important that if a child reveals that he or she has been sexually abused, we need to believe and seek medical and psychological assistance. Peer support can be really helpful for a victim of sexual abuse.

Written by Dr. Ruth Vivek, Public Health professional

Photograph by S Brumley, via sxc.hu

Also read: Child Sexual Abuse - Good Touch/Bad Touch


  1. Syedsaifullah says:

    childsexualabuse is big crimeok bhai