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What is abuse?

Harm can mean lots of different things. It can mean that people who are meant to care for you struggle to do that properly, or that you experience things like physical abuse, emotional abuse or sexual abuse. It may be that the way you feel about yourself and your life mean you do things to harm yourself, or take risks that mean you aren't safe. Whatever is happening to cause you harm, there are people who can help you find a way through it.

We know talking about these things can be really hard. You might feel embarrassed or ashamed, or you might be worried about what will happen. You might feel that you are to blame and be scared that nobody will believe you or want to help you. This section of the website will give information about the kinds of problems we know young people might be facing and how to find support with these. We will also explain about what happens if you need help to keep safe at home, a process we call "Child Protection".

Child abuse is a phrase we use when children and young people are being hurt by people who should care for them. There are many different kinds of abuse. You can read about some by scrolling down.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is when you are being deliberately hurt by an adult, or older young person. This can mean being hit, kicked, punched or physically injured by them. Physical abuse includes being burned, scalded, shaken or choked. Physical abuse can also be if your parent or carer pretends you are unwell so you have medical treatments or hospital stays that you don’t need.

No matter what the reason, physical abuse is always wrong

Find out more at childline

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse Is when an adult behaves in a way that makes you feel worthless, unloved and uncared for. They might do things on purpose to make you feel anxious, scared, unhappy or inadequate.

Emotional abuse can include:

- Calling you names
- Shouting at you, even if you haven't done anything wrong 
- Putting you down 
- Ignoring you or leaving you out of things 
- Saying or doing things that make you feel bad about yourself.

Emotional abuse can be difficult for others not directly involved to notice. That can leave you feeling others don’t care. If you are being emotionally abused at home, and then in school some of the same things are happening, like being put down, called names or being left out, that can make how you are already feeling much worse. Sometimes you might start to believe the horrible things that are being said. None of it is true, and you should try hard to see that the person in the wrong is the abuser. Abuse is never the fault of the victim.

Emotional abuse can affect every part of your life, often long after the actual abuse stops, so it is important you tell someone about it to get help sooner.

Find out more at childline

  • Making you feel like you don’t belong
  • Making you take responsibility for things you shouldn’t have to do until you’re older
  • Treating you differently from others
  • Someone being aggressive and violent to other people in your family and you keep seeing it
Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is when someone is forced, pressurised or tricked into taking part in any kind of sexual activity with another person.

Examples of sexual abuse include:

- Being touched in a way you don't like or being asked to touch another person in this way
- Being forced to have sex (intercourse)
- Look at sexual pictures or videos 
- Do something sexual or watch someone do something sexual
- Someone continually making comments of a sexual nature to you that make you uncomfortable, embarrassed or afraid 
- Being enticed into sexual activity by another person, or a group or people who may have befriended you
- Someone flashing or exposing themselves to you online or offline

Child sexual exploitation (CSE)

Can happen to anyone under the age of 18. The person abusing you might be an adult, an older young person, or maybe someone the same age as you. Abusers often try to look like they are supportive and your friend. They might give you gifts like clothes or phones, invite you to parties or to go for a drive in someone’s car. They might give you things such as alcohol, cigarettes, money, drugs, They might give you somewhere to stay if you have fallen out with family or carers or you have run away. The abuser might also try to manipulate or trick you into believing they love you and that you are in a consensual (that is you agree to what is happening) relationship. This kind of behaviour, intended to confuse you, is called grooming.

Through grooming, the abuser may persuade or force you to share sexual images/videos or have sexual conversations. They may also persuade or pressure you in to doing sexual acts online or offline.  Sometimes the abusers will tell you this is payment for the gifts, and that you ‘owe’ them in some way, or they may continue to try to make you believe you love each other.

Because abusers spend a lot of time manipulating, twisting your head and grooming you it not surprising this can often leave you feeling confused or stuck, or that somehow things are you fault. It is important you know it is never your fault. 

Sexual abuse is one of the hardest things to talk about. It can make you feel afraid, isolated or ashamed. But it's never your fault and it's never too late to tell someone. There are people who can help you. In Dundee we have a worker whose job it is to support young people are being sexually exploited. You can contact her directly at sarah.finnegan@barnardos.org.uk or talk to someone else you trust to help

Want to find out more visit:


Sexual harassment is bullying in a sexual way. It can happen anywhere, including at school, at home or at work. It can leave you feeling humiliated, embarrassed, self-conscious and frightened.  Sometimes the person harassing you might be in what seems like a position of power and you this might make it harder for you to speak out. The person harassing you relies on this. No one, has the right to do this to you. You are not responsible for what they do. Harassment will not stop until the person harassing you is stopped. Finding the courage and help to speak out is the first step to stopping it.

Sexual harassment is when you're made to feel uncomfortable if somebody:

- Touches you in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable 
- Forces you to kiss when you don’t want to
- Spreads sexual rumours about you
- Says inappropriate or sexual things that make you feel uncomfortable
- Calls you names such as slut, tart, whore
- Objectifies you by talking about your body parts as if that is all you are


We talk about young people being neglected when they don't have their basic needs met by people whose job it is to care for them. It might mean that you don't have enough food to eat, or proper clothes for the weather outside (like not having a warm coat and dry shoes in winter). It might also mean that your house isn't clean, warm, and safe, or that someone isn't there for you when you need their help or care.

It can be hard to think of yourself as being neglected, especially when you might be starting to take some more responsibility for yourself.  If things are not good at home you may try to spend a lot of your time away from home, maybe with friends or hanging about the streets. This can lead to you being at risk of other kinds of abuse.  It might seem to make life better for a time, but it really is not the answer. You still need, and deserve, to have someone to look after you, to care for you and make sure you are safe.

Find out more at childline:

Female Genital Mutilation

FGM, sometimes referred to as female circumcision, is when a girl's genitals (private parts) are cut altered or removed. It can cause long-lasting damage as well as ongoing emotional distress. This illegal in the UK and is a form of Child Abuse.

If you think you’re in immediate danger of being cut or being taken abroad for this to happen you can call the police (dial 999), or speak to a teacher or adult you trust

Facts about FGM:

FGM is abuse, and it's illegal in the UK There is no religious or medical reason for FGM FGM can happen at any age before marriage FGM can be dangerous if there is blood loss and infection You have the right to not be pressured into having FGM. If you are worried about FGM, help is available.

It’s normal to feel this way and okay to have these feelings. It’s not unusual to have a good relationship with the person that wants you to be cut but feel upset that they want this to happen. If you are worried that you might be forced to have FGM in the future, talk to a trusted adult, such as a teacher at school or doctor. You don’t have to worry alone.

If you're going abroad you can take this statement opposing female genital mutilation with you. You can show it to your family so they know FGM is a serious criminal offence. Put it in your passport and keep it with you all the time.

Find out more at childline

You might worry that:

- Your parents family or will get in trouble or will be upset
- You won’t be able to get married
- You will get other people into trouble or everyone you know will turn against you

What to do if you're worried about having FGM

You might be refusing to be to have FGM but might also feel pressured, especially if other people in your family have been cut. This may make you feel alone and scared but there are people who can help.

Online abuse and Bullying

Online abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the web, whether through social networks, playing online games or using mobile phones.  You might experience cyberbullying, grooming, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or emotional abuse.

You can be at risk of online abuse from people you know, as well as from strangers. Online abuse may be part of abuse that is taking place in the real world, such as bullying or grooming. Or it may be that the abuse only happens online, for example persuading you to take part in sexual activity online.

It’s easy to feel can feel like there is no escape from online abuse – abusers it seems, can contact you at any time of the day or night, the abuse can come into your safe places Images and videos can be stored and shared with other people. There are a number of things you can do to help stay safe online and if any of these things are happening to you can get more advice online or tell someone you trust to help.

Relationship Abuse

Being in a new relationship can make you feel excited, happy and in control. It’s normal to enjoy getting compliments, feeling special and safe or like you’ve got more confidence.

But relationships can sometimes change and it can be hard to know when things are starting to go wrong.

In a healthy relationship someone shouldn’t try to control you. Controlling or threatening behaviour can be physical, sexual, emotional, financial or psychological. If your relationship doesn’t feel right, it may be time to end it.

What to do if you feel unsafe

Ending a relationship can be really difficult, and there are some things could put extra pressure on you. If your boyfriend or girlfriend makes you feel scared in your relationship, it's important you do something to keep yourself safe.

Forced Marriage

Because forced marriage is illegal, it can happen in secret and might be planned by parents, family or religious leaders.

Remember that if you're being forced into marrying someone you don't want to, this is wrong and it's also against the law. It can feel like you have no control, but it's important to think about your future, your safety and what a forced marriage would be like for you.

If you can't talk to your parents, maybe you can think of another adult who you trust, like a family member, teacher or school nurse. It’s important to let someone know as quickly as possible so that you can be safe and get help.

Child Trafficking

Trafficking and modern slavery are child abuse.  You can be trafficked for a number of reason such as

Sexual exploitation Benefit fraud

Many young people are trafficked into the UK from abroad, but you may also be trafficked from one part of the UK to another.  The NSPCC have just produced a new leaflet aimed at young people who may be trafficked - It is available to download in a number of languages Traffickers will use threats to harm you or your family, or tell you that as you agreed to moving, you will get into trouble. That is not true. Children cannot legally give consent so trafficking only requires evidence of being moved and exploited.

- Forced marriage
- Domestic servitude, such as cleaning, childcare, cooking
- Forced labour in factories or agriculture
- Criminal activity such as pickpocketing, begging, transporting drugs, working on cannabis farms.


There are lots of reasons why people self-harm. It could be because of feelings or thoughts that are difficult to deal with.

Some people self-harm because it feels like a method for releasing tension. It’s a physical pain you can deal with, rather than a feeling or emotion that can be hard to cope with.

Self-harm can also be used as a way of punishing yourself for something you feel bad about.

Sometimes people self-harm because they feel alone, angry or not good enough. Self-harm can be really personal and complicated, so it’s okay if you don’t know the reasons behind self-harm.

Some young people start self-harming after a stressful event, like being bullied or abused. It could also be a reaction to something like pressure to do well at school. It’s not always a really big thing that leads to self-harm. You might not even be sure why it started.

Whatever is going on for you there is always someone there to help. Talk to someone you can trust to help, such as your parents’, teacher, social worker or contact ChildLine who also suggest techniques for coping with self harm.