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Child abuse

Sexual abuse

Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice and guidance

Please see our coronavirus (COVID-19) advice page for our latest information and advice on how to keep children safe during the outbreak.

As part of this guidance, we have produced guidance for practitioners about how to manage the risk of sexual abuse during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Please also refer to our document about the paediatric service at Devon and Cornwall Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC).

Together we can continue to support those who are at greatest risk of exploitation.

Child sexual abuse is when someone persuades or forces a child to take part in sexual activities, or encourages a child to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.

It doesn’t necessarily involve physical contact and can also take place online.

Sexual abuse with contact can include sexual touching, whether the child is wearing clothes or not, all penetrative sex and forcing or encouraging a child to take part in sexual activity.

Non-contact abuse involves non-touching activities, which may include grooming, sexual exploitation, engaging in sexual activity in front of a child and making, permitting to take, distributing and showing or advertising indecent images of children.

Find out more from the NSPCC about what defines child sexual abuse.

It’s important to have a good idea of what is normal sexual behaviour so you can spot the warning signs of harmful behaviour or if something might not be quite right. Find out more about sexually harmful behaviour, underage sexual activity and general sexual health, including sexually transmitted infections.

Working Group

The DCFP Executive set up a working group to look specifically at the issue of Child Sexual Abuse across the county. The group has four priority aims:

  1. To prevent the sexual abuse of children and young people by raising awareness and understanding across the community amongst adults and children.
  2. To increase the knowledge, skills and confidence of professionals in identifying and responding to child sexual abuse.
  3. To increase the provision of evidence-based therapeutic interventions for children who have been sexually-abused and for children who display harmful sexual behaviours.
  4. To increase our understanding of the strategic and operational responses to child sexual abuse in Devon.

You can view a presentation of the latest DCFP review of Child Sexual Abuse here.

Centre of Expertise on CSA

Research shows that the majority of children and young people who experience CSA will not tell anyone at the time of their abuse. And if they do, they are much more likely to tell friends or family than someone in a professional role.

The CSA Centre’s new Signs and Indicators Template helps professionals address this, gathering the wider signs and indicators of CSA to build a picture of their concerns. This explanatory video discusses the ways in which the template can support your teams.

The following services are offered across Devon for children who are under threat of, or who have experienced child sexual abuse:

  • Devon and Cornwall Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC)

Sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) offer medical, practical and emotional support. They have specially-trained NHS doctors, nurses and support workers to care for those who have experienced an incidence of sexual abuse or assault. There are also independent sexual violence advisors (ISVAs) who can help victims get access to other support services they may need.

A referral can be made either by calling 0300 3034626 or by completing their short confidential referral form

More information is available here.

  • Devon Rape Crisis

Devon Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse services work with victims and survivors of child sexual abuse aged over 13. The abuse may be recent or historic. The Organisation has a team of counsellors and trauma workers who offer a highly specialist support service from offices in Exeter and Barnstaple. Services users can self-refer or may be referred by an agency or family member and would expect to have an initial assessment within 15 working days of referral. Assessments always take place in person in our own offices and service users may be accompanied by a family member, worker or friend, The waiting list for young people aged under 16 is under 1 month, but for those aged 16-18 it can be up to 5 months, and for adults, up t 10 months. Victims and survivors of child sexual abuse will be allocated to a named worker and receive weekly support for up to 24 sessions, with a review at every 8 sessions. Sessions may include counselling, psycho-education, specific trauma interventions, sand tray work or EMDR.

The Exeter office provides women-only space on 4 days per week. There is also a service available on two evenings per week up to 9pm. Online counselling will be available to disabled service users or those with limited access to transport in rural areas. Service users can claim back transport costs if agreed in advance. The service currently supports 86 users per week across the whole of Devon.

To find out more about Devon Rape Crisis and their work across the county, please visit their website.

Getting help


Information for children and young people about sexual abuse - including what to do and how to tell someone. Children and young people aged under 19 can call the confidential 24 hour helpline or chat online with a counsellor.

0800 1111


Offers advice and information aimed at adults about what to do if you think a child is being sexually abused. Also further guidance about the signs and indicators of sexual abuse and child grooming.

0808 800 5000

Parents Protect

Offers a wealth of information to help parents and carers protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation. The Stop it Now! helpline is available for anyone with concerns about child sexual abuse.

0808 1000 900

If you are concerned that a child is being abused please call

0345 155 1071

or email

Professionals should complete the MASH contact form.

If it’s an emergency call 999