Children rarely disclose sexual abuse. Hence, studies of children's abuse experiences are relatively rare. This paper reports on a qualitative analysis of 2986 cases of self‐disclosure of sexual abuse from children, aged 5–18 years, who contacted ChildLine Scotland, a free, confidential telephone counselling service. Children discussed their feelings regarding the abuse, the impact of abuse on their health and well‐being, sources of support, disclosure, coping strategies, the context in which abuse occurs and the various ways in which they were groomed or their compliance in abuse was gained. Children's narratives contained detailed contextual information on their experiences of sexual abuse, perpetrators of sexual abuse and the circumstances in which sexual abuse occurs. The way in which children communicated about sexual abuse was found to differ quite considerably, and the terminology they employed was often markedly different from adult constructs. Nonetheless, children of all ages were able to describe their experiences and their feelings around the abuse in considerable detail. This study provides a rare insight into children's accounts of sexual abuse. The findings illustrate the profound impact that sexual abuse has on the lives of children and their understandings of the circumstances in which abuse occurs.