Sexual Abuse: Warning Signs Exhibited by Children

Sexual abuse can happen to anyone. It’s often difficult for people, both children and adults, to talk about what is happening. If you suspect that your child may be experiencing sexual abuse, this article will be able to help you identify the signs of sexual abuse.

The fact is that most children are afraid to talk about what is happening. It’s hard for them to understand what has happened or why it is happening. According to a report from the U. S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, over one third of women and one quarter of men have been raped or have experienced some other form of sexual assault.[1]

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number one place that children are sexually assaulted is at home.[2] Not only is it important to stay alive, but it’s also important to stay safe. The following are some signs that your child may be experiencing sexual abuse.

Signs You May See in Child or Adolescent

  • Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
  • Seems distracted or distant at odd times
  • Has a sudden change in eating habits
  • Refuses to eat
  • Loses or drastically increases appetite
  • Has trouble swallowing.
  • Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
  • Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
  • Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images
  • Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places
  • Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
  • Talks about a new older friend
  • Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason
  • Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad
  • Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge

Signs more typical of younger children

  • An older child behaving like a younger child (such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking)
  • Has new words for private body parts
  • Resists removing clothes when appropriate times (bath, bed, toileting, diapering)
  • Asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games
  • Mimics adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animal
  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

Signs more typical in adolescents

  • Self-injury (cutting, burning)
  • Inadequate personal hygiene
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Running away from home
  • Depression, anxiety
  • Suicide attempts
  • Fear of intimacy or closeness
  • Compulsive eating or dieting

Physical Warning Signs

Physical signs of sexual abuse are rare. If you see these signs, bring your child to a doctor. Your doctor can help you understand what may be happening and test for sexually transmitted diseases.

  • Pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth
  • Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements
  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

If you suspect that your child or someone you know may be experiencing sex or violence in any form, please visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) website. There are many helpful resources listed on their site to assist us in our journey toward preventing child sexual abuse and helping the victims make a full recovery through therapy and counseling programs.

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