Signs of Sexual Abuse in Kids
Child sexual abuse affects thousands of children in the U.S. each year. Many of the signs of child sexual abuse go unnoticed by adults who are not aware of the risks and do not know what to look for. Unfortunately, abused children often do not come forward themselves until later, after they understand what happened to them or are no longer afraid of retaliation. As an adult, it is up to you to recognize and look for the signs of sexual abuse in kids.
Sexual abuse can affect a victim in many different ways. Some of these effects manifest themselves physically, such as certain injuries or changes in a child’s physical appearance. Pay attention to how a child looks. Note any odd or concerning issues, such as:
- Frequent or unexplained bruises or injuries
- Signs of trauma to the genital area
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Sexually transmitted infections or diseases
- Stained or body undergarments or sheets
- Involuntary urination or bowel movements
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Unkempt appearance or poor personal hygiene
- Signs of self-harm, such as cuts or burns
Physical signs of sexual abuse are rare. More commonly, sexual abuse has a nonphysical effect on the victim that is not outwardly visible. If you do notice any of these physical signs, bring the child to a doctor immediately.
Sexual abuse can change the way a child behaves, especially if abuse is ongoing for a period of time. Any sudden, unusual or unexplained changes in how a child behaves are red flags for abuse. Behavioral signs of sexual abuse vary according to the age of the child at the time of the abuse.
- Excessive crying
- Feeding and bowel problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Failure to thrive
Ages 2 to 9:
- Fear of certain people or places
- Feelings of shame, guilt or anxiety
- Regression, such as thumb-sucking
- Nightmares, trouble sleeping or bedwetting
- Changes in appetite
- Withdrawing from loved ones or favorite activities
- Bullying others
- Mood swings
- Abnormal knowledge of sexual topics
- New words for genitals
Ages 9 and older:
- Tobacco, drug or alcohol use
- Aggression, rage or outbursts
- Poor performance in school/dropping out
- Promiscuous activity or overly mature behavior
- Starting fights
- Poor social skills
- Running away from home
- Fear, nightmares or symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
- Suicidal behaviors
Analyze the behaviors of adults and older children that you know have access to your child, as well. Sexual abusers may give hints as to their objectives in their behaviors, such as by asking for sleepovers or one-on-one time with the child, grooming the child with gift-giving or trips, pushing physical affection on the child, treating one child as a favorite, and having an abnormal interest in a child’s sexual development.
Sexual abuse can have an enormous impact on a child’s mental, emotional and psychological wellbeing. This can lead to diagnosable mental health disorders and emotional signs such as:
- Guilt or shame
- Lack of self-confidence
Ask your child why he or she feels a certain way. Be upfront with your child about sexual abuse. Explain that you are here to listen, you will believe his or her story, and that he or she will not be in trouble or in danger for speaking out about sexual abuse.
What to Do If You Think a Child Is Being Sexually Abused
If you suspect a child in your life is being sexually abused, don’t wait for proof. Keep track of the behaviors and signs that concern you in a written journal. Then, speak up about your concerns immediately.
Call the police if you believe the child to be in imminent danger of bodily harm. Pick a safe time and place to talk openly to the child and ask if someone is causing him or her harm. Reassure the child explain that you are going to get help. Then, report your suspicions to the police and Child Protective Services.
After you make your report, offer your services as a witness during a police investigation or lawsuit against the abuser. If it is your child who has been sexually abused, contact a Los Angeles sexual abuse lawyer for a free consultation about your legal rights right away.