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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.

Seen and Heard campaign

The Seen and Heard campaign and e-Learning – jointly-commissioned by the Department for Health and The Children’s Society – hears directly from young people and their experiences when they have ‘got something to tell’. It is an engaging and interactive 60-minute course – unlike any other – that is designed to equip workers across agencies to spot the signs of child sexual abuse and create a safe environment where young people are more likely to disclose.

To find out more about the e-Learning, and sign up, please visit the Seen and Heard page.

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

  • Journey After Child Abuse Trauma (JACAT)

JACAT is a part of the Devon-wide CAMHS offer (though currently does not cover Torbay) as part of Children and Families’ Health Devon (CFHD).

The referral criteria are:

  1.    Child/young person  (under 18) living in Devon who has been sexually abused and;

2.     The abuse has been reported to the appropriate agency (MASH / Social Care / Police)

A disclosure of sexual abuse is sufficient as long as this has already been reported.  If the referral comes from a family member JACT will work with parents to report the abuse to the MASH.

In the cases where there is an ongoing forensic investigation and/or the case is going to Court, JACAT will liaise closely with Police before trial – this does not rule out therapeutic work.

JACAT works out of the CAMHS offices in Exeter, Barnstaple, and Lescaze (Totnes) and, at other times, across the County.

JACAT has a two session assessment process in which they screen for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder  and discern with the Child/young person and family what the heart of the matter is for them. They then collaboratively determine which approach is most likely to be helpful.  Where appropriate (and over 90% of children/ young people referred have clinically significant levels of PTSD), they use the NICE guidelines recommended evidence-based treatment for PTSD.  Where risk is paramount, JACAT generally work with families in the first instance to help bring down the risk before beginning any trauma work which may be indicated.  If family issues are most important, they may invite members of the family to family therapy.  JACAT also run groups for mothers of sexually abused children.  Sometimes they are able to offer group work to children and young people.

For more info, please visit: 

  • 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