Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

Child sexual abuse is a crime that affects millions of children worldwide. Child Protective Services found evidence that 57,329 children suffered sexual abuse in the U.S. in 2016 alone. Child sexual abuse can impact a survivor for life. Catching sexual abuse as early as possible as a parent could help your child avoid more significant physical and emotional damages. Look for physical, behavioral and emotional signs that your child could be suffering from sexual abuse. If you suspect abuse, call a California child sexual abuse lawyer for counsel right away.

Physical Signs

Childhood sexual abuse often leaves a physical trace on the survivor’s body. When changing or bathing your young child, look for unusual injuries or marks that could point to abuse. You may be able to notice physical red flags in older children and teens as well.

  • Bleeding or trauma to the genitalia, anus or mouth
  • Bloody undergarments or bedsheets
  • Difficulty walking, running, sitting or standing
  • Pain or blood when going to the bathroom
  • Bruising of the upper thighs
  • Physical injuries, such as slap or bite marks
  • Sexually-transmitted diseases
  • Chronic stomachaches
  • Early pregnancy
  • Self-induced injuries or suicide attempts

These are common physical signs of sexual abuse in children, but this list is not exhaustive. Take your child to a physician to see what he or she thinks if you notice any unusual physical marks on your child. Also, keep an eye out for the appearance of strange gifts in your child’s room or backpack, such as toys or jewelry you do not remember buying. An adult buying a child gifts or giving him or her money without reason could be signs of grooming for assault or abuse.

Behavioral Signs

The red flags for childhood sexual abuse are not always physical. A child that suffers such a significant trauma at an early age could also display numerous behavioral changes.

  • Regression, such as an older child suddenly sucking his or her thumb or wetting the bed.
  • Excessive crying or failure to thrive in infants.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, appetite or weight.
  • Acting out, including outbursts in class or a sudden decline in school performance.
  • Getting into fights at home or school.
  • Runaway behaviors, such as rebellion, threats or actually leaving home.
  • Fear or anxiety about going to school or being around certain adults.
  • Sudden lack of interest in favorite activities or social isolation/withdrawal.
  • Substance abuse, including sudden use of drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Avoiding relationships with others.
  • Unusual knowledge of sexual subjects for the child’s age.
  • Drawing sexual organs or play-acting sexual positions.
  • Giving clues, such as starting a conversation about sex or sexual abuse.

While one or two of these behavioral changes may not be cause for concern, several could point to something seriously wrong. The issue may not be sexual abuse, especially if your child is also going through something like a divorce. However, sudden behavioral changes are always worth watching.

Emotional Signs

The trauma of sexual abuse or assault at an early age can have lasting emotional, mental and psychological effects on the survivor. You may be able to notice emotional changes in your child if you know what to look for. While some emotional changes are normal, especially for teenagers, these combined with other warning signs could mean sexual abuse.

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Nightmares
  • Fear or excessive worrying
  • Guilt or shame
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anger or aggression
  • Isolation
  • Mood swings
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

Your child may show different emotional signs of sexual abuse or molestation depending on his or her age. Start a conversation with your child about the sudden emotional changes and what is causing them. Let your child know he or she is not in trouble and can tell you anything. If you find any signs, evidence or proof of child sexual abuse, contact an attorney for help immediately.