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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/practice-approach/practice-standards/ensure-safety-and-wellbeing/definitions-of-abuse-neglect-and-harm/sexual-abuse/
Printed: 19/05/2024
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Last updated: 01/07/2019

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is any action where a tamaiti is used for a sexual purpose.

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This content will be strengthened so it more completely reflects our commitment to practice framed by te Tiriti o Waitangi, based on a mana-enhancing paradigm for practice, and drawing from ​Te Ao Māori principles of oranga to support mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga. We each need to consider how we can apply these principles to our practice when reading this content. The following resources provide support:
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What it is

Sexual abuse can be any act that involves forcing or enticing a tamaiti to take part in sexual activities, whether or not a tamaiti is aware of what's happening. Sexual abuse can be, but is not limited to:

  • contact abuse — touching breasts, genital/anal fondling, masturbation, oral sex, penetrative or non-penetrative contact with the anus or genitals, encouraging a tamaiti to perform such acts on the perpetrator or another, involvement of a tamaiti in activities for the purposes of pornography or prostitution
  • non-contact abuse — exhibitionism, voyeurism, exposure to pornographic or sexual imagery, inappropriate photography or depictions of sexual or suggestive behaviours or comments, sexting, cyber grooming or grooming behaviours (grooming behaviours are not easily recognised but occur when a person prepares te tamaiti or significant others and their environment for the abuse of te tamaiti without detection).

Sexual abuse can happen within and outside the whānau or family. Most sexual abuse is done by someone te tamaiti knows.

Tamariki involved in sexual behaviours

Tamariki sometimes engage in sexual behaviour with other tamariki. This behaviour can often be normal experimentation (such as two 5-year-olds showing each other their genitals), but sometimes tamariki are affected in more serious ways (for example, a 14-year-old showing their genitals to a 6-year-old).

When there is coercion or controlling behaviour by 1 tamariki to another, the treatment sector in New Zealand considers this concerning sexual behaviour if te tamaiti is under 10 years of age or harmful sexual behaviour if te tamaiti is over 10 years of age.

Reports of concern about sexualised behaviour


We listen when tamariki tell us about sexual abuse or something that has happened to them (circumstances of indecency or sexual violation).

We record as accurately as we can what they say and seek appropriate supervision and advice. Be an active listener without encouraging, leading or prompting.

Possible signs

These signs are clues that alert us that abuse may have happened and that a tamaiti may need help or protection. However, they are not conclusive evidence of abuse and there may be instances of abuse where there are no obvious signs.

Physical signs

Te tamaiti has:

  • unusual or excessive itching or pain in the genital or anal area
  • stained or bloody underwear
  • bruises or bleeding in the genital or anal area
  • blood in their urine or stools
  • sexually transmitted infections.

Behavioural signs

Te tamaiti:

  • displays age-inappropriate sexual play or language
  • displays sophisticated or unusual sexual knowledge
  • refuses to go home (or to a specific person's home) for no apparent reason
  • is afraid of a certain person
  • has self-destructive or self-harming behaviours
  • displays extreme attention-seeking behaviours or extreme inhibition
  • dresses inappropriately to hide bruising or injuries, or in a non-age appropriate or provocative manner
  • has eating disorders
  • has compulsive behaviours
  • runs away from home or is afraid to go home.