Womens Support Project

Women whose children have been sexually abused or exploited

Unfortunately the Women`s Support Project is not currently able to offer individual support  to women whose children have been sexually abused or sexually exploited, or where abuse is suspected. This is as a result of funding cuts and we are working to secure alternative funding to re-establish our support service. For further information on sexual exploitation please click here.

If you know or suspect that a child is being sexually abused then you need to take action. If the child is at immediate risk you should contact the police. Depending on the urgency of the situation you can contact police, social work, your GP, the local children`s hospital or emergency department, or an organisation working against violence against women and children. Depending on your relationship to the child you might decide to speak to someone who knows the child better. If you are concerned in a work setting you should follow the child protection precedure.

It is important that you share what you know or suspect with someone who can help. For further information go to: http://withscotland.org/ or www.crimestoppers-uk.org

It is not only strangers who pose a risk

Finding that any child you know and love has been sexually abused is always a difficult experience. It is all the more devastating if the abuser is someone you know and trust, such as your husband or partner, your brother, son or nephew.

Children may be sexually abused by:

  • a family member
  • a friend or acquaintance of the family
  • a peer (someone close to their own age)
  • a boyfriend (or someone she regards as a boyfriend)
  • a person in a position of trust such as youth worker, teacher, care worker, sports coach or member of the clergy
  • a stranger or strangers

Men are more likely to sexually abuse children than women, click here  [pdf 568kb]  to view a leaflet on the extent of the problem.  Whilst sexual abuse by women is less common, it is no less serious.

Abuse comes to light in different ways, and this can have an impact on how a parent responds initially:

  • Your child may tell you
  • You may find something that makes you realise what has happened, for example one woman knew her daughter was very unhappy, so she eventually read her daughter`s diary
  • A friend of your child may tell you, or perhaps the mother of a friend / children sometimes tell a friend before they tell an adult.
  • Your child may tell someone else in the family, for example a grandparent or aunt
  • Someone else may be told by your child, or may suspect, for example a teacher at school or nursery
  • You may not find out until some time after the abuse. Some women do not know about the abuse until their child is grown up.

Immediate responses - if your child tells you that they have been sexually abused:

  • If you are not in a safe private place, try to arrange this before speaking with the child in depth.
  • Tell the child that they are right to talk about what has happened
  • Tell them that children are not responsible for sexual abuse. The adult is always responsible.
  • Say that you are sorry that this has happened and that you will help them
  • Explain you may need to tell others to get the help you both need (this will depend on the child`s age)

Issues for non-abusing parents

If you find out about the abuse whilst your child is under 16, then there will be child protection concerns if the alleged abuser has regular contact with the child. This is particularly an issue if the alleged abuser is the child`s father and he has court ordered child contact. In this situation you will need to contact police and possibly social work services. You should also speak to a lawyer as soon as is possible about applying to the court to suspend or vary contact arrangements.

When the abuse does not come to light until the child is an adult, then it is their choice as to whether to report this to the police or not. Anyone who has been abused as a child has the right to report this to the police at any time and although potentially difficult it is possible to successfully prosecute cases of "historical abuse".

Most women are not aware of the sexual abuse of their child. Some women may be concerned, possibly about the child`s behaviour, or by something like constant urinary infections, or a return to bedwetting, but may not have considered sexual abuse as a possible cause. Hindsight can become very painful for non-abusive carers once abuse is identified - they may feel they "ought" to have known what was going on. On occasion this hindsight may cause a tension between the non-abusing parent and the system but it is important that child protection workers develop a good relationship with the non-abusive carers. It is important to remember that most abusers go to great lengths to avoid detection and will use a variety of means to disguise and facilitate the abuse.

In a small minority of cases, often in the context of domestic abuse, women may know about ongoing abuse, or may strongly suspect it, but be unable to act to protect their child, in which case action needs to be taken by child protection services.

For information on helpful resources and support services please click here. Read this helpful article by Angela Rivera.

Support for women whose children have been sexually exploited

What do we mean by `sexual exploitation`?

Sexual exploitation of children and young people occurs when children are involved in sexual activity for some form of gain. Some children may be involved in sexual activities in order to survive, for example for food or a roof for the night, or as a means to get money for drugs or alcohol. No matter whether the child appears to have instigated the sexual activity, or whether the child sees it as a positive thing, this is abuse and exploitation. Girls and young women are more likely to be sexually exploited than boys. However although exploitation of boys is less common, it is no less serious.

The sexual exploitation of children is becoming increasingly commercialised. In these cases the gain, or profit, goes to some third party or pimp. CROP now known as PACE (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation) www.cpft.nhs.uk/services/PACE-Parents-Against-Sexual-Exploitation-formerly-CROP.htm the leading support and campaigning organisation in this area, has found that the abuse often involves gangs of men and/or organised criminal networks.

Sexual exploitation may involve activities such as stripping or lap dancing, being made to have sex with friends of your boyfriend, prostitution, and involvement in pornography.

Children who have already been sexually abused, who have lived with domestic violence, or who have been otherwise abused or neglected may be particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, but by no means all the children targeted and exploited fall into this category. Police and support services are aware of girls from all sorts of background who have been abused in this way.


Children and young people may be approached through the internet, for example via chat rooms, or may be directly targeted. Some abusers are known to frequent places popular with young people, and/or hang around schools and care homes. Some abusers use children to make contact with and "recruit" other children.

Abusers use a variety of methods, sometimes referred to as grooming, to ensnare and control the child. This usually involves befriending the young person, treating them as special, letting them drink or use drugs, encouraging them to stay away from home, to truant from school and to view their parents as controlling and spoiling their fun.

At some point the nature of the relationship will change. The abuser will persuade, trick or coerce the young person into illegal activity, such as shoplifting or running drugs, and / or will persuade, trick or coerce them into sexual activity, first with the original abuser, and then with others. He may declare that he is angry because she has done something wrong, or that he needs her to "help him out" and "show her gratitude" for all that he has done for her. If the girl complies once, for whatever reason, this will be used as a threat against her getting help, and to coerce her into further unwanted activity. Increasingly girls report that their abuse was photographed or filmed and threats made to post this on the internet or send to people she knows.

In many instances the girl initially regards her abuser as her boyfriend and does not see a problem. By the time she realises that he does not genuinely care for her she may be too terrorised to resist. She may also feel that she has to keep quiet in order to protect her family if threats have been made against her parents or siblings.

Further information & support

For information on helpful resources please see: WSP resource lists on sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse

The following websites provide helpful information on child sexual abuse and exploitation

MOSAC is a voluntary organisation supporting all non-abusing parents and carers whose children have been sexually abused. They provide advocacy, advice and information, befriending, counseling, play therapy and support groups following alleged child sexual abuse. The MOSAC helpline is open Tuesday Wednesday Thursday and Friday from 10am - 2pm. You can call the national helpline from anywhere in the UK for support, advice and information. www.mosac.org.uk/mosac/  MOSAC National Free Helpline 0800 980 1958. If you want to pay please call 0208 293 9990

SAY Women is a Scottish voluntary organisation which offers crisis support as well as safe and secure accommodation for young women (aged 16 to 25 years) who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, rape or sexual assault and who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. www.say-women.co.uk/

Rape Crisis Scotland telephone helpline is open every night of the year from 6pm until midnight. They can provide immediate support and information and, when possible, referral to an appropriate service in your local area. Telephone 08088 010302 www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk/

PACE (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation) has a helpful website. www.cpft.nhs.uk/services/PACE-Parents-Against-Sexual-Exploitation-formerly-CROP.htm Please note that their support service is funded to cover England and Wales, and that information on legislation and legal protections refers to England and Wales and not to the Scottish system. 

Barnardo`s has various projects across the UK working against sexual exploitation of children and young people www.barnardos.org.uk/what_we_do/our_projects/sexual_exploitation.htm

ECPAT stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes. ECPAT campaigns against the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the UK and on its international aspects. They focus on the protection of trafficked children and children exploited in tourism and the prevention of such crimes. www.ecpat.org.uk/

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