Warning Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

Abused ChildSigns That a Person Is a Sexual Abuser

Often after a child abuser has been revealed, those closest to the situation will recall feeling that something was wrong, without knowing how to address it or what to say. Abusers count on this feeling of confusion and reticence to cover their tracks. Instead of remaining silent, parents should learn to question the behavior that produces these feelings. Some questionable behaviors, according to a booklet on child sexual abuse produced by the organization STOP IT NOW!©, include when an adult or older child:

• Insists on hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling with or holding a child even when the child does not want this affection.

• Is overly interested in the sexuality of a particular child or teen (for example, talks repeatedly about the child’s developing body).

• Insists on time alone with a child with no interruptions.

• Spends most of his or her spare time with children and has little interest in spending time with someone of his or her own age.

• Regularly offers to baby-sit children for free or takes children on overnight outings alone.

• Buys children expensive gifts or gives them money for no apparent reason.

• Frequently walks in on children or teens in the bathroom.

Trust your instincts. If questioning these behaviors does not produce change, or if the answers do not seem acceptable, remove your children from contact with that person.

Signs That a Child Has Been Sexually Abused

No one sign (with the exception of pregnancy or the presence of a sexually transmitted disease) is conclusive as to whether a child has been sexually abused or not. Nightmares or mood swings can be produced by other stressful events, including divorce, death of a family member, problems at school, etc. If you observe a combination of signs in your child, such as these provided by STOP IT NOW!, Mothers Against Sexual Abuse and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, start asking questions and reaching out for help.

Does your child:

• Have nightmares, sleep too little or too much?

• Have extreme fear of the dark or “monsters?”

• Have a loss of appetite or trouble eating or swallowing?

• Have sudden mood swings: rage, anger, fear or withdrawal?

• Fear a certain person or place? (A child may not want to be left alone with a babysitter, friend, relative or other child or adult.)

• Complain frequently of stomach illness with no identifiable reason?

• Engage in sexual activities with toys or other children, such as simulating sex with dolls or asking other children to behave sexually?

• Display new words for private body parts?

• Refuse to talk about a “secret” he has with an older child or adult?

• Talk about a new older friend?

• Suddenly have money?

• Cut, burn or harm himself or herself as an adolescent?

Other signs include excessive masturbation, excessive crying, wearing many layers of clothing, vaginal discharge or bleeding.

Call the STOP IT NOW! Helpline at 1-888-PREVENT for more information, or contact your child’s pediatrician for a recommendation of a therapist who deals with sexual abuse issues.

See also:

How to Prevent or Recognize and Confront Child Sexual Abuse

What’s Play, What’s Not