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Child Sexual Abuse

What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse occurs when a person uses his/her power over a child or youth, and involves the child in any sexual act. Child sexual abuse occurs when a person uses his/her power over a child or youth, and involves the child in any sexual act. The power of the abuser can lay in age differences, intellectual or physical development, a relationship of authority over the child, and/or the child’s dependency on him/her.

“Touching” is not the only way in which a child can be sexually abused. Sexual abuse includes acts such as: fondling, genital stimulation, mutual masturbation, oral sex, using fingers, penis, or objects for vaginal/anal penetration, inappropriate sexual language, sexual harassment, voyeurism, exhibitionism, as well as exposing a child to, or involving a child in pornography or prostitution.

The offender may engage the child in sexual acts through threats, bribes, force, misrepresentation, and other forms of coercion. Sexual abuse is usually an ongoing pattern of progressively intrusive sexual interactions. Most of the time, the offender is someone well known to the child and trusted by the child and/or family. 

Age of Consent 

  •  Children under 12 can never legally consent to sexual acts.
  • 14 is the legal age of consent for sexual acts.
  • The Criminal Code recognizes that adolescents engage in exploratory sexual behaviour. Therefore, 12 and 13 year olds may not be charged criminally if consent to sexual involvement is mutual and there is no more than 2 years age difference between them. However, if one of the youth is in a position of trust or authority over the other, then consent is not valid. For example, it would not be against the law for a 13 year-old and 15-year-old to be sexually involved if they both consented, unless the 15-year-old was in a position of trust or authority (ex. as a coach or camp counselor).
  • The Criminal Code protects teens aged 14 to 17 from sexual exploitation by someone in a position of trust or authority. Teens in this age range may legally consent to sexual acts with someone who is not in a position of trust or authority. This means, for example, that a 15-year-old male can legally consent to sexual involvement with a 20-year-old female. However, if the 20-year-old is his tutor, she is in a position of trust or authority over him and would be committing an offence. His consent would not be valid.
  • The Criminal Code of Canada sets out the laws regarding consent to sexual acts. Consent means that a person understands what she/he is agreeing to and what could happen as a result of the agreement. Children are not able to give informed consent to sexual activity because they cannot fully understand adult-child sexual contact or predict the consequences. An alleged offender may claim that the child consented, but such a claim cannot justify sexual acts with a child. Under no circumstances should a child’s physical reactions to sexual stimulation (ex. an erection) or lack of any signs of distress (ex. complaints) be interpreted as consent or that the child is enjoying the interaction. Children can be manipulated and coerced into sexual acts that they may not understand.

Information adopted from Understanding Child Sexual Abuse: Guide for Parents and Caregivers.

| Child sexual abuse is a criminal offence |


What are the warning signs?

Child sexual abuse isn’t always easy to spot. The perpetrator could be someone you have known a long time or trust, which may make it even harder to notice. Consider the following warning signs:

Physical indicators:

-      irritation or injury to the genital area,

-      difficulty walking or sitting,

-      frequent urinary or yeast infections,

-      sexually transmitted infections,

-      bloody, torn, or stained underclothes.

Behavioural indicators:

-      seems threatened by physical contact,

-      shows signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder,

-      sleep disturbances,

-      bedwetting,

-      sexualized behaviour,

-      unexplained anger, anxiety,

-      poor self-image, low self-esteem, lack of confidence.

Child Sexual Abuse Resources

Dealing with Child Abuse: A Handbook for School Personnel.

(Developed by the Government of Northwest Territories.)



 The BC Handbook for Action on Child Abuse and Neglect.





Click here to access more resources.