Signs of Sexual Abuse in Teens
Sexual abuse is prevalent among children of all ages. Statistics show, however, that the majority of sexual assault victims are aged 12 to 34. These are the individuals with the highest risk for rape and sexual abuse. Although young women are especially at risk, teenage males can also suffer sexual abuse and violence.
If you are the parent of a teenager or someone who works with teens, learn some of the most common warning signs of sexual abuse in teenagers. You have the power to make a real difference in the life of a teen who is being abused.
Visible physical signs are uncommon in teenage sexual abuse cases. Sexual abuse may not leave physical marks or may only leave marks in places that are normally covered by clothing. If you do notice any of the following issues, however, it could be a sign of sexual abuse:
- Frequent trips to the hospital or emergency room
- Bruising on the upper arms, stomach or thighs
- Genital injuries or trouble walking
- Frequent upset stomach
- Loss of appetite or increased appetite
- Sudden changes in weight
- Poor hygiene
- Bloody or stained sheets or undergarments
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Early pregnancy
If you notice any physical signs of potential sexual abuse in a teenager, take him or her to a doctor right away. A doctor can treat physical injuries and help collect evidence of potential sexual abuse, such as biological evidence.
The Emotional Effects of Sexual Abuse in Teens
Sexual abuse can have long-term effects on teenage victims. Survivors may suffer long-lasting depression, suicidal thoughts or mental health disorders. Common issues associated with teenage sexual abuse are:
- Depression and anxiety
- Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as flashbacks or nightmares
- Fear or reluctance in seeing certain people or going certain places
- Feelings of guilt, shame or self-loathing
- Reduced self-esteem or self-confidence
- Withdrawal from favorite people or activities
- Isolation from others
Although being a teenager in general can lead to some of these issues, if they are combined with other potential signs of teenage sexual abuse, it warrants further investigation.
Behavioral Warning Signs
To cope with the trauma of sexual abuse, many teens self-medicate. They turn to alcohol, drugs or cigarettes to cope. This can lead to additional behavioral problems in an abused teen. Look for behavioral issues such as:
- Drinking or drug use
- Failing grades or low performance in school
- Fights or outbursts
- Bullying others
- Mood swings or aggression
- Sudden personality changes
- Cutting class or running away from home
- Self-harming behaviors, such as cutting
Although one or two of these issues could be attributed to normal teenage behaviors, multiple signs can point to a deeper issue, such as sexual abuse. Take it as a sign to investigate further and ask the teenager if he or she is being harmed.
What to Do If You Suspect Teenager Sexual Abuse
Keep in mind that every survivor is different. Sexual abuse in teens can cause a range of symptoms, and no two cases are exactly alike. Stay informed about all the risks and warning signs of sexual abuse and be vigilant in searching for signs of something wrong in the teenager in your life.
As soon as you suspect sexual abuse, sit down and talk to the teen about it directly. Reassure the teen that you are there to help, that he or she is safe, and that the teen is not in trouble. Explain that even if the teen is in a relationship with the abuser or gave his or her consent to sexual activities, sexual abuse is still a crime and is not okay.
Report teenage sexual abuse to the police immediately. If the abuse occurred in an institution, such as a school or church, notify authorities at the institution as well. Keep any evidence you have of abuse, such as photographs or clothing. Then, contact a Los Angeles sexual abuse attorney right away to discuss the teen’s legal options and how to hold a perpetrator accountable.