The following tabs contain key terminology and definitions that pertain to child sexual abuse prevention. Click on each letter below to review related terms. 

ABUSER – someone who has committed a crime against a child. not everyone who sexually abuses children is a pedophile. child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a wide range of individuals with diverse motivations. many abusers are youth themselves, or situational offenders also commonly known as: perpetrator, offender, those who offend

active bystander or upstander – a person typically not involved in a situation but they may sense that something is unsafe or witness a boundary violation against a child and they act upon their suspicions to protect the child

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) –  according to the CDC, “Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years). For example: experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect, witnessing violence in the home or community, having a family member attempt or die by suicide. Also included are aspects of the child’s environment that can undermine their sense of safety, stability, and bonding, such as growing up in a household with: substance use problems, mental health problems, instability due to parental separation or household members being in jail or prison. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance use problems in adolescence and adulthood. ACEs can also negatively impact education, job opportunities, and earning potential.”

child advocacy center – a child-friendly environment where professionals from different disciplines work together as a team to respond to reports of child sexual abuse

child protection policy – a formal, mandatory statement of safeguarding principles that should be followed by its intended audience. the policy should prioritize and integrate the safety of children into the overall purpose of the organization. the policy that aligns with the strategic objectives is strong

child sexual abuse –

  • an act that involves a child. a child is defined by legal age and by developmental capacity
  • an act that is sexual in nature, that can be contact or non-contact acts meant for sexual gratification either in the moment or later
  • an act where the child is unable to give consent
  • an act where there is a power differential, in other words, the person who abuses has power over the child. that could be an adult or another peer

more commonly known as: child molestation

child sexual abuse materials any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor. It may involve photos, video, or explicit messages. it is illegal and should be reported to the cyber tipline

child sex trafficking – a form of child abuse and human trafficking where the child is advertised, solicited, or exploited to engage in sexual activity for something of value (e.g. money, food, drugs, or even a place to stay). Under US law, anyone under age 18 that participates in commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking – whether or not the tracker forced, defrauded, or coerced them

also known as commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC)

code of conduct – a document that describes how staff, volunteers, and older youth will interact and conduct themselves with children

community of practice – group of people who share a common concern, set of problems, or interest in a topic and come together to achieve both individual and group goals

consent – to participate fully, freely, voluntarily, and uncoerced

cyber tipline – a national centralized reporting system for the online exploitation of children provided by the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) – ensures fair treatment and opportunity for all.  It aims to eradicate prejudice and discrimination on the basis of an individual or group of individual’s protected characteristics

emotional injury – an impairment to or disorder of the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by observable and substantial reduction in the child’s ability to function within a normal range of performance and behavior

forensic interview – means of gathering information from an alleged victim or witness to help determine what may or may not have occurred during the incident of abuse

grooming – a deliberate process by which offenders gradually grooms or manipulates a child by setting up opportunities for abuse through gradual boundary violations and by gaining the trust of the child and those closest to them before sexual abuse occurs

inappropriate conduct – conduct that violates the physical or emotional boundaries of another, or puts the person or others at risk for violation or accusation of violation, whether intentional or unintentional

inDIVIDUAL WITH LIVED EXPERIENCE – an individual who has personally endured and survived incidents of sexual abuse. This term underscores the importance of recognizing that these individuals have directly experienced trauma and its lasting effects. Their firsthand knowledge and understanding of the emotional, psychological, and physical consequences of child sexual abuse can be invaluable in efforts to support survivors, raise awareness, and advocate for changes in policies and practices. Please note, individuals will use different terms to describe child sexual abuse. Ask the individual which terms they identify with, for example, some people prefer “person with lived experience,” and some people prefer the term “survivor”, some do not want to be identified at all.

mandated reporter – this definition varies by state; however, it can universally be defined as someone who is legally responsible for reporting suspected or disclosed abuse to authorities

multi-disciplinary team – consists of social workers, local law enforcement investigators, medical and mental health professionals, prosecutors, and victim advocates

neglect – failure by a caretaker, either deliberately or through negligence or inability, to take actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability, and growth, or other essential care; provided, however, that such inability is not due solely to inadequate economic resources or solely to the existence of a handicapping condition

person-first language – when the person is mentioned before the behavior, illness, or experience that, in part, characteristics that person

physical injury – death, or fracture of a bone, subdural hematoma, burns, impairment of any organ, and any other such nontrivial injury; or soft tissue swelling or skin bruising, depending on such factors as the child’s age, circumstances under which the injury occurred, and the number and location of bruises; or addiction to a drug or drugs at birth; or failure to thrive

prevention-oriented community – adults in the community are working within their spheres of influence to integrate cultural practices and community norms of child sexual abuse prevention

problemATIC sexual behavior – refers to behavior initiated by a child that is illegal, developmentally inappropriate, or potentially harmful to that child or to other children or adults. there is growing recognition that the behaviors of children should be distinguished from the behaviors of adults, and some experts argue that sexual harm committed by children should not be labeled as CSA and instead should be called problem sexual behavior

Resilience – resilience occurs when we have a mix of inner strengths and positive external influences. It is the ability of a person to bounce back in the face of adversity or negative events in their life. Resilience is not inherent and needs to be built in a person. Building resilience allows them to have a better chance at overcoming life’s adversities

safe parent/caregiver – a parent or caregiver who has not physically or mentally harmed a child in their care. this person must be engaged and be a part of the further protection and support for the child. oftentimes, they will need support as well

sexting – the sharing and receiving of sexually explicit messages and nude or partially nude images, usually shared through mobile devices or through different applications

sextortion – a form of child sexual exploitation. the child is coerced into performing sexual activities or sharing sexual content. they are typically blackmailed with threats of sharing their nudes and other sexual content to friends, family members, or the general public

Trauma – when a person is exposed to a series or a singular life altering event that negatively impacts them, is life threatening, and/or continually raises their stress to a toxic level they have experienced trauma. Trauma comes in many forms: physical, emotional, environmental, societal, and historical. Unresolved trauma can have lasting effects on a person’s physical and mental health

trauma-informed – being trauma-informed means you’re approaching individuals with an understanding that their responses may be caused by some form of trauma. it is acting from a place of compassion and empathy

Vicarious Trauma – vicarious trauma occurs when you are continually and indirectly exposed to someone else’s trauma. It typically is associated with those who work in the helping professions (social workers, educators, therapists, first responders, child advocates, etc.). If gone uncared for, it can greatly affect your mental health and wellbeing

youth serving organization (YSO) – refers broadly to any organization designed in part or whole to meet children’s needs and wants related to social and developmental enhancement, education, physical and mental health, sports, and leisure, the arts, religion, juvenile justice, and child welfare


Learn more about the NEW Stewards of Children® with our training information sheet or by visiting the training’s dedicated webpage