The child-victim of sexual abuse: how to recognise the signs and what are the urgent measures to prevent long-term repercussions: In cases of sexual abuse we are talking predominantly about girls: of the 1,192 cases in 2023, 1,062 were sexual abuse of girls.

  • About 3% of parents say their child has been a victim of sexual abuse in the last year;
  • In almost two thirds of cases the abuser is an unknown person;
  • In cases of sexual abuse we are talking predominantly about girls: thus, of the 1,192 cases in 2023, 1,062 were sexual abuse of girls;
  • Girl victims are more likely to self-harm and self-blame.

Bucharest, 19 February 2024: Staff working with and around children, who are not able to respect and protect their rights and integrity, can be detected early on if certain aspects are found that could lead to abuse, such as: mental illness, negative comments about the child, lack of attachment to the child, physical violence, etc. Save the Children Romania draws attention to the fact that the victim of sexual abuse can suffer serious traumatic repercussions if they do not receive specialist help, i.e. counselling or psychotherapy services. Given the seriousness of this form of trauma, these services are often provided over a long period of time, especially when the victim is a child.

Statistics data:

Of the 13,340 cases of child abuse, neglect and exploitation, 1,192 cases involved sexual abuse and 31 cases involved sexual exploitation of children, according to data provided by the ANPDCA for the year 2023 (January-September 2023). While the gender distribution of physical and emotional abuse cases is comparable, in cases of sexual abuse we are talking predominantly about girls: of the 1,192 cases, 1,062 were sexual abuse of girls.

The national survey launched by Save the Children Romania in 2021 shows that about 3% of parents say that, in the last year, their child has been a victim of sexual abuse, in almost two thirds of cases the perpetrator was an unknown person, and 2.9% of adolescents said they were forced to have sex against their will, a situation that confirms the acute level of underreporting of sexual abuse committed against children. Compared to the results of the similar survey in 2013, there is a significant increase in the percentage of parents acknowledging the incidence of sexual abuse of their child (from 0.5% to 3.2%). However, the Council of Europe estimated in its 2020 Report on the implementation of Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings that 90% of child sexual abuse cases in Europe do not reach the attention of the police or the courts.

Identifying those who are prone to sexual abuse or likely to reoffend can be done by asking the employer for a behavioural integrity certificate issued by the police.

Emotionally, victims can often feel guilty and responsible for the abuse. Often sexually abused children feel they have harmed their own bodies and feel powerless for not being able to defend themselves. When children are unable to confess abuse or when they confess and are not believed, signs of acute distress may appear such as insomnia, nightmares, lack of appetite or other somatic distress. Helplessness and hopelessness are common and are accompanied by anger. This is why it is crucial that adults can recognise the signs of child abuse,” says Gabriela Alexandrescu, Executive President of Save the Children Romania.


Save the Children psychologist Mihaela Dinu explains the signs of child abuse:

There are symptoms of post-traumatic stress that can lead to isolation, avoidance of relationships and self-destructive and self-mutilating behaviours. Often child victims experience feelings of disgust and defilement. They may begin to display negative, antisocial and aggressive behaviours. Depression is the most common, and can even reach severe forms.

Girl victims are more likely to self-harm and self-blame, especially when the abuse has been long-term and violent.

Aggravating factors of sexual abuse include:

  • degree of coercion and violence used;
  • the duration of the abuse;
  • the nature and severity of the abuse;
  • the relationship with the abuser.

The long-term effects of sexual abuse, which have emerged from multiple studies, are:

  • Psychological problems (depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of guilt, post-traumatic stress, etc.);
  • Deviant behaviour (self-harm, drug use, prostitution, vagrancy, etc.);
  • Relationship and sexual problems in adult life (social isolation, sexual promiscuity, revictimisation, etc.);
  • Learning disabilities;
  • Eating disorders;
  • Sleep disorders;
  • Somatization disorders.


  • Prevention

As far as sexual abuse is concerned, a first measure against it is to encourage children to “keep no secrets”, “say no”, “tell someone” and, above all, to understand that “It’s never their fault!”

When the abusers are parents or people who are considered to be trusted and have a role in the upbringing and protection of children, the abuse is often in a continuing form and confession is very difficult to make.

If the abuser is a parent, the child feels confused about his or her feelings towards that person: “If my father is so bad, why do I still love him?”. That’s why the child needs to be helped to separate his feelings about the abuse from his feelings about the abuser’s father because of his character in general: “What your father did was wrong, and as an adult, he is responsible for that bad behaviour, but in general, he might not be a bad person.”

Social reactions in such cases are what often discourage children from confessing abuse. Unfortunately, many children are exposed after abuse to strong emotional reactions, mistrust from others, which may negatively influence their understanding of the abuse, self-image, ability to trust others. The child should be helped to correct maladaptive thoughts such as: “No one can be trusted.”, “My mother hates me for shaming her.”

If the child trusts the people around him and feels safe, he will admit that he has been abused.

  • The second measure is education on recognising some forms of sexual abuse.

Children need to develop their vocabulary, especially that related to body parts and genitals. This can be done from a very early age, as early as kindergarten, explaining in age-appropriate language what abuse of the body means.

The child must be educated to include issues of inappropriate touching: good/bad touching.

Good touches: kiss on cheek, touch on shoulder, handshake;

Bad touches: hitting, touching or fondling of genital areas by others.

  • The third measure, education on a healthy sex life.

This should be done according to the child’s age, with appropriate language.

  • The fourth measure, teaching the child defence skills related to being able to defend themselves and respond effectively to possible inappropriate touching and being encouraged to leave if an adult touches them in a ‘bad’ way.

Educators, teachers, parents and parents-to-be, should teach non-violent learning skills, free from abuse of any kind.

The recommendations of Save the Children to the Romanian Government and Parliament are the following:

  • Revise criminal legislation to ensure adequate protection of children against sexual abuse. This includes measures previously submitted to the authorities by Save the Children on reconsidering the provisions of the Penal Code that criminalise sexual intercourse with a minor under 16, including reducing the age difference between the perpetrator and the child from 5 years to 3 years.
  • Promote the national reporting system on child abuse, exploitation, neglect and improve data collection on sexual abuse.
  • In line with the National Strategy for the Protection and Promotion of Children’s Rights 2023-2027 “Protected Children, Safe Romania”, starting this year the process of national expansion of Barnahus-type programmes, based on the model created by Save the Children and currently underway.
  • Integrating comprehensive sex education into the secondary school curriculum, with a priority focus on informing children about respecting personal boundaries in relationships with others, recognising abusive behaviour and knowing how to report it.
  • Develop and adequately fund specialised services for victims of sexual abuse that provide free, accessible, child-friendly and equitably distributed counselling, therapy and legal services in urban and rural areas.
  • Ensure access to continuous training for police, justice, health and education professionals to improve the identification of sexual abuse cases and ensure hearing conditions and procedures in line with the dignity of children and their rights to social, educational and psychological protection and support.
  • Develop parental counselling services both within the local social services system and in educational establishments through psycho-pedagogical support offices.
  • Establishing legal obligations for all legal entities, public or private, to draw up their own policies for preventing, protecting, reporting and dealing with any form of child abuse, in the form of codes of conduct or regulations for children and adults directly or indirectly involved in their specific activities.

In this area of protecting children from sexual abuse, Save the Children carries out the following activities:

Through the 4 counselling centres in Bucharest, Timisoara, Targu Mures and Iasi, Save the Children specialists offer psychological support to children who have been victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and counselling to parents to overcome difficult situations that compromise children’s development or generate risks. In 2023, 560 children were assessed and received individual and group counselling/psychotherapy therapeutic intervention and 522 parents were integrated into parenting education programmes to develop positive parenting skills. There were 3,340 counselling sessions for children and 2,935 counselling sessions for parents.

Under the esc_ABUZ reporting line (, which aims to report harmful (illegal and legal) content for children and young people online, 3,415 such reports were received in 2023, of which 42.82% (1,254) illustrated images of child sexual abuse (CSAM) or material of minors in sexualised poses, and 653 of which represented material generated by minors themselves (CSAM). From 2016 to the end of 2023, 33,281 such notifications were received. The identified materials are sent by Save the Children specialists to the IGPR, where they are investigated, aiming at removing the content from the internet, identifying and assisting the victim, and investigating the perpetrators.

Save the Children has supported over 35 child protection trainings from 2022-2023 in an effort to improve the skills of specialists working with children. These trainings brought together over 550 experts from local authorities.

During these events, Save the Children presented its Policy on the Protection of Children in Organisational Activities, highlighting the importance of preventing sexual abuse and exploitation. This initiative, known by the acronym PSEA (Prevention of Sexual Abuse and Exploitation), reaffirms the organisation’s commitment to the safety and well-being of children and vulnerable adults. Save the Children takes responsibility for creating a safe and healthy environment for all those involved in the organisation’s activities.

We thus stress the obligation of each institution to have a clear Code of Conduct that includes aspects condemning child abuse. This initiative comes in the context of raising awareness of the vulnerabilities of children and adults at risk. Save the Children reiterates its commitment to continue to work in partnership with local authorities and child protection professionals to ensure a safer future for all children.


Contact person: Mihaela Dinu, project manager, phone 0723276350 / email –


About Save the Children Romania

For 34 years, Save the Children Romania has been building social programmes, public policies and sound practices for the benefit of children in Romania. The expertise and complexity of its projects at national level make the organisation an essential social institution whose role is to mediate between society and public authority for the benefit of children. In its more than three decades of activity, Save the Children has actively intervened in society, identifying concrete solutions for the protection and support of vulnerable children, while at the same time advocating for a viable collaboration with the decision-making authorities to ensure the best interests of the child. Save the Children has taken on the role of vigilant oversight of public authorities, so that they can implement lasting public policies to correct the causes that lead to children’s vulnerability. At the same time, the organisation has succeeded in creating active networks of solidarity by encouraging corporate and social responsibility in the broadest sense. As a member of Save the Children, the world’s largest independent children’s rights organisation with 30 members and programmes in over 120 countries, our VISION is a world that respects every child’s right to survival, education, protection and participation, with a MISSION to achieve significant progress in the way children are treated and make immediate and lasting change in their lives. Over 3,700,000 children have been involved in Save the Children programmes and campaigns.