South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence

What is sexual abuse?

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Sexual abuse is defined as sexual contact, ranging from fondling to intercourse between a child in mid-adolescence or younger and a person at least five years older (Briere 1992, p. 4). By implication, sexual abuse occurs when a person is involved in sexual activity that they do not comprehend and to which they cannot give informed consent. Children should never be regarded as being capable or sufficiently comprehending of giving consent. (In NSW the age of consent is I6 for girls and boys.)

In essence, sexual abuse is 'the exploitation of a child for the sexual gratification of an adult' (Fraser in Renvoize 1993, p. 34). The South Australian Government Task Force defined child sexual assault as 'the imposition of explicit sexual activity of a child who lacks the power and authority to prevent being coerced into compliance (cited in Renvoize 1993, p. 34). Such abuse can take many forms including exposure, fondling voyeurism and exhibitionism to oral sex, sexual intercourse (oral, anal and vaginal) and involvement with pornography and child prostitution. With respect to sexual abuse by women any of these acts other than penile penetration is possible. Digital penetration and penetration with objects does occur.

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