Child sexual abuse

Definition of child sexual abuse and other terminology

What is child sexual abuse?

Any sexual act performed on girls or boys against their will or to which they cannot knowingly consent due to intellectual, linguistic, mental or physical inferiority. Perpetrators exploit positions of authority and power to satisfy their own needs at the expense of the child involved.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Issues has been responsible for the overall critical reappraisal of child sexual abuse in the Federal Republic of Germany and the former GDR since January 2016. This relates to children and adolescents between the ages of 0 and 18 who have been subjected to sexual violence.

How is child sexual abuse defined in German criminal law?

Basically this means that children – defined by criminal law as minors under the age of 14 – cannot consent to sexual acts due to their level of development. This also means that abuse occurs even if a child consented to the act or actively caused it.

Sexual acts against children or adolescents are also punishable by law if they are committed by people to whom they have been entrusted for care, education or upbringing. This includes people such as teachers or trainers. However, a dependency relationship resulting from the custodial relationship must have been exploited for sexual acts against adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 to be punishable.

What forms of child sexual abuse are there?

There is a wide range of acts that are denoted as sexual abuse. They range from verbal sexual innuendos to physical assaults, such as those that occur when helping out with sports. There are sexual acts on the child’s body (hands-on), such as French kissing or manipulating the genitals, as well as severer forms of sexual abuse, such as oral, vaginal and anal penetration. There are also cases of abuse in which the child’s body is not touched (hands-off), e.g. when perpetrators masturbate in front of the child involved, exhibit themselves or deliberately show the child pornographic images or ask the child to perform sexual acts on themselves or in front of a webcam.

Does sexual violence also occur amongst adolescents?

A significant risk in the context of sexual violence experienced during childhood also exists through attacks by those of the same age. Adolescents can and should try sex with others and gain experience. However, sexual abuse occurs when the adolescent is facing a predicament and the perpetrator takes advantage of this for sexual acts.

Girls and boys can also be exposed to sexual assaults and sexual abuse by adults and other adolescents through digital media, e.g. through cybergrooming, sexting or unwanted exposure to pornography. Children and adolescents involved in this can turn to specialised counselling centres that will support them with advice and long-term therapeutic support.

Are there other terms for child sexual abuse?

The terms “sexual” or “sexualised violence against children or adolescents” are often used in professional practices and science instead of “child sexual abuse”.

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