Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

Are you aware of some of the most common warning signs of sexual abuse in children? These behaviors don’t mean that a child has been sexually abused, but adults who observe several of these warning signs in a child should take note, and take action. A local Children’s Advocacy Center is a great place to get help. Suggestions for what to do if you see warning signs are also available here.

Warning signs in young children:

  • Behaving like a younger child (regression to bedwetting or thumb sucking)
  • Acquires new words for private body parts
  • Fear of being away from caregivers
  • Sudden interest in sexual organs of self & others
  • Acts out or suggests sexual games with other children
  • Wetting or soiling accidents (beyond toilet training)
  • Mimics adult-like or sexual behaviors with stuffed animals or dolls
  • Avoiding clothing changes or bathing

Warning signs in school-aged children and adolescents:

  • Suddenly has toys, money, or gifts without explanation
  • Seems distracted or distant
  • Sudden change in eating habits
  • Nightmares or sleep problems
  • Sudden fear of certain familiar places or people
  • Talks about having secrets or being unable to talk about something
  • Mentions a new or older friend but unwilling to share details or name them
  • Writes, draws, plays or dreams about sexual or frightening images

Signs primarily seen in teens:

  • Self mutilation, cutting, and other self-injurious behaviors
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Eating disorder
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Rebellion or withdrawal; running away from home
  • Change in attitude towards school or academic performance

Physical warning signs of sexual abuse are rare and may include bleeding, bruising or discharge in genital, anus or mouth, STPs, painful urination or bowel movements, and trouble walking or sitting.

Remember that traumatic events such as a divorce, death in the family, or bullying can elicit similar behaviors, but listen to your instincts. If something seems off, and can’t put your finger on why, talk to the child about it.

The warning signs above are compiled from a number of resources including:

stopitnow.org

Child Abuse Alert: A Desk Reference

rainn.org

d2l.org