Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse in Teenagers
Sexual abuse is a rampant crime that affects millions of people around the world. As a parent, you may never think your teenager could be one of them. You may assume your teen would tell you, but only about 25% of sexual assault cases get reported to the police. It is often up to family members and friends to detect the warning signs of sexual abuse in teenagers.
Sexual abuse in a teenager may or may not show physical signs. The abuse itself could cause physical harm or injuries, or your teen’s reaction to sexual abuse could take a physical toll, such as changes in weight or appearance. Sexual abuse looks different in each survivor. While one of these issues may not be enough to confirm sexual abuse or assault, multiple warning signs are cause for concern.
- Physical injuries, such as bruising
- Genital injuries or trouble walking
- Changes in appetite
- Unkempt appearance or poor hygiene
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Cutting or other signs of self-harm
- Teen pregnancy
Take your teen to a doctor if you notice any of these warning signs; especially if you notice more than one. A doctor may be able to diagnose your child’s symptoms as something else or confirm that your teen has suffered some form of sexual abuse. Keep in mind that a lack of physical signs does not mean there has not been any sexual abuse. Abuse can manifest itself in many different ways.
Sexual abuse or assault in teenagers often comes through in nonphysical signs, such as emotional red flags or changes in mental health. Having an open and communicative relationship with your teen can help you notice changes in his or her moods and emotional state. Many of these emotional signs are just a natural part of being a teenager. Multiple signs, combined with physical or behavioral issues, however, could point to something more sinister.
- Shame or guilt
- Low self-esteem
- Fear of being alone with someone
- Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
Talk to your teen about his or her recent change in mental or emotional state. Ask your teen upfront if he or she is experiencing any form of sexual abuse or assault, including with a romantic partner. Let your teen know that sexual abuse is not his or her fault and that there is no shame in coming forward. Offer to take your teen to a mental health professional, such as a counselor, if he or she does not feel comfortable opening up to you.
Look for behavioral warning signs of sexual abuse in your teen as well. Kids and teenagers who experience sexual abuse often exhibit sudden or unexplained changes in their personalities, behaviors and actions. They may lash out as a way of coping with the trauma, or they may become more introverted and withdrawn.
- Behavioral outbursts
- Poor school performance
- Getting in trouble at school
- Substance use (drugs or alcohol)
- Criminal behaviors
- Eating disorders
- Social problems
- Sexual promiscuity
- Self-harming or suicidal tendencies
Again, one or two of these behavioral changes may not signify sexual abuse. It may be a normal sign of your child growing up or coping with other issues related to being a teen, such as bullying or peer pressure. Multiple red flags, however, should prompt you into action.
What to Do If You Suspect Your Teenager Has Been Sexually Abused
If you suspect sexual abuse, sit down and have a conversation with your teen in a safe place. Connect your teen to a trained professional, such as the national sexual assault hotline, if necessary. Talk with your teen about reporting the assault to the authorities. Take your teen to a medical professional for an examination, as well. Then, when you and your family are ready, help your teenager pursue justice by consulting with a Los Angeles sexual abuse attorney.