Possible signs of sexual abuse in children

Possible signs of sexual abuse in children

How to spot signs of sexual abuse in a child’s behaviour

*Remember that these signs do not necessarily mean that a child was indeed sexually abused, but if any of these are present you should begin asking questions and consider professional assistance. Remember that some of these could also be indicative of other problems, eg.

  • Divorce in the household
  • A family member or friend’s passing
  • Scholastic pressure or peer problems
  • Other trauma

Problem behaviour / Signs to look for in an adolescent or child:

  • Inexplicable change in routine, eg. disrupted sleeping patterns, a change in eating habits (a loss of appetite or apparent comfort eating)
  • Appears withdrawn / disengaged from social interaction
  • Sudden temper tantrums or mood swings: outbursts of rage or fear
  • Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason
  • Dismissed his/her person or body as dirty or bad
  • Writes, draws or talks about inappropriate/sexual scenarios
  • Scared of any individuals or places
  • Won’t divulge a ‘secret’ or special thing with an adult or older child
  • Exhibits adult-like sexual knowledge, behavior or language

Signs commonly seen in younger kids:

  • A slightly older child regressing to younger behaviour (such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking)
  • A new/unfamiliar vocabulary for private body parts
  • Refuses to remove clothing when normal – eg. toilet visits, bedtime, bathtime, nappy changes)
  • Mimics adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animal
  • A sudden lack/regression of toilet training

Signs to look for in teenagers/adolescents (and yes, these are turbulent times but don’t negate any difficult behaviour, as it could be a sign of distress).

  • Lacking personal hygiene
  • Drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity
  • Secretive behaviour/meetings
  • Running away from home
  • Depression, anxiety
  • A sudden, inexplicable drop in scholastic performance
  • Comments about suicide or suicide attempts
  • Self-injury (cutting, burning)
  • Fear of appropriate intimacy/closeness
  • Compulsive eating/dieting or a marked change in eating habits
  • Withdrawal by a once-social child

Physical warning signs

  • Pain in genitals, anus or mouth
  • Bleeding, discoloration or discharges from genitals, anus or mouth
  • Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements

Physical signs of sexual abuse are not often seen, but if spotted seek medical attention / arrange for a visit to your family doctor. Health care professionals can assist you in understanding what may be happening, and can also test for sexually transmitted diseases.


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