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Health & Social Services

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Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is one of the key social problems undermining the health and wellbeing of our population today.  It has a wide prevalence and can have a high impact.

Child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse is any sexual act between an adult and a minor or between two minors when one exerts power over the other. Child sexual abuse is persuading, coercing, or forcing a child to engage in any type of sexual activity. It also includes non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyeurism and communicating in a sexual manner by phone or internet.

Research strongly demonstrates that physical and mental health problems resulting from sexual abuse and rape can be significant.

Untreated impacts of abuse in childhood can continue to impact on survivors as adults in the form of depression, anxiety, impaired interpersonal relationships, parenting difficulties, eating difficulties, and/or drug and alcohol misuse to cope with strong feelings.

The long-term effects of sexual abuse on children have been correlated with almost every known mental health disorder and most of society’s ‘social problems’ such as early teenage pregnancy, single parenting and lifetime low social economic status.

Signs / Symptoms

What to watch out for in children:

  • Acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects
  • Nightmares, sleeping problems
  • Becoming withdrawn or very clingy
  • Becoming unusually secretive
  • Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings and seeming insecure
  • Regressing to younger behaviours, e.g. bedwetting
  • Unaccountable fear of particular places or people
  • Outburst of anger
  • Changes in eating habits
  • New adult words for body parts and no obvious source
  • Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts
  • Self-harm (cutting, burning or other harmful activities)
  • Physical signs, such as unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals or mouth, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy
  • Running away
  • Not wanting to be alone with a particular child or young person

Signs that an adult may be using their relationship with a child for sexual reasons:

The signs that an adult is using their relationship with a child for sexual reasons may not be obvious.

We may feel uncomfortable about the way they play with the child, or seem always to be favouring them and creating reasons for them to be alone. There may be cause for concern about the behaviour of an adult or young person if they:

  • Refuse to allow a child sufficient privacy or to make their own decisions on personal matters
  • Insist on physical affection such as kissing, hugging or wrestling even when the child clearly does not want it
  • Are overly interested in the sexual development of a child or teenager
  • Insist on time alone with a child with no interruptions
  • Spend most of their spare time with children and have little interest in spending time with people their own age
  • Regularly offer to baby-sit children for free or take children on overnight outings alone
  • Buy children expensive gifts or give them money for no apparent reason
  • Frequently walk in on children/teenagers in the bathroom
  • Treat a particular child as a favourite, making them feel 'special' compared with others in the family
  • Pick on a particular child

Seek help

Crisis Support

NZ Police

ACC counselling Support

ACC funds immediate and longer term counselling and other support for people who have experienced sexual abuse / violence. The support available is safe, confidential, and flexible, so people can get the help they need when they need it.

People, who have experienced sexual violence, and their family and whanau, can find out more about ACC’s services at The website allows people to search for a therapist to meet their needs. People can also contact the ACC Sensitive Claims team for more information on 0800 735 566. ACC’s therapists and sensitive claims staff have experience working with people from diverse cultures and respect people’s values, beliefs and tikanga.

Find out more

Victim Support 

Womens Refuge