Everyone can prevent child sexual abuse by creating safe environments for children and young people – and by listening and talking to them.

Keeping children safe from sexual abuse is more than a one-off conversation at school or at home. It is a process of creating safe environments, listening to a child’s concerns and believing them if they disclose something.

This process works when adults and peers are accessible, and available when needed. Developing open and trusting relationships with children in your care ensures that all kinds of matters relating to personal and intimate behaviour, sex, and sexuality can be discussed freely.

Children and young people want organisations to provide safe physical environments - places that are bright and cheerful, where they are able to move around, to play and to "hang out" with friends and people they trust.

Children and young people value being helped to better understand risks and to make better judgements on when to trust and when to be wary. Raising concerns with an adult can be difficult, potentially embarrassing, shameful or uncomfortable. Adults need to respond respectfully and in ways that allay children's fears and discomfort. A trusting relationship will help if they need to talk about safety concerns. It can be highly valuable for a child to have several adults and friends who they trust to share difficult information with.

Children's perception about safety

Our research tells us that a child’s experience and understanding of safety can be different from that of adults. An adult’s idea of what is safe is not the same as a child’s sense of what is safe. To create safe environments, the views of both adults and children need to be taken into account. Both need to be involved in finding the solutions and making the space safe.

The responsibility of keeping a child and young person safe should involve listening to them and hearing and responding to their concerns. This may involve talking to them about sensitive and uncomfortable issues and experiences.

Tips on listening

  • Listen carefully and acknowledge what a child tells you.
  • Remind them that there are no secrets.
  • Listen without judgement.
  • Remember that a child might be too embarrassed to tell one particular adult and might feel more comfortable talking to someone else.
  • Remain calm and control your expressions if a child tells you something surprising.
  • Showing concern is helpful; showing disbelief or shock may not be helpful.
  • Listen to and respect a child’s right to privacy.

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Support

Trigger warning:

This website may contain material that is confronting and disturbing, particularly for survivors of sexual abuse, violence or childhood trauma. Issues raised might cause you distress.

Support lines

If you are feeling distressed, seek support:

Lifeline 13 11 14
Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
beyondblue 1300 224 636
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
ReachOut 1800 633 937

Emergency

If you believe a child or young person is in immediate danger, or you are in immediate danger, call 000.