The signs of sexual abuse are not always easy to spot. Over the last hundred years or so, long-term trends show that incidence is decreasing, but child maltreatment is still a major health issue in society. The internet has provided abusers with a new, direct route into young people’s lives. That said, the majority of sexually abused children are abused by someone known or related to the victim.
Read on to discover the top 10 signs of sexual abuse. If it’s possible to align these behaviors with personal experience or that of someone else, take action immediately.
Types of Abuse
Sexual abuse isn’t just penetration, and it doesn’t have to involve any physical contact at all. All of the following are examples of sexual assault and they all have serious physical and emotional repercussions — especially if left untreated:
- Taking inappropriate pictures or videos of a child
- Forcing a child to remove their clothing or masturbate
- Engaging in sexual activity in front of a child
- Asking a child to perform sex acts on webcam
- Letting a child have easy access to sexual content
- Inappropriate touching
- Any form of penetrative or oral intercourse
- Exposing children to sexually explicit materials that is beyond what is appropriate for their sexual development
Signs of Sexual Abuse
1. Changes in Behavior
Children are not physically or emotionally ready for any form of sexual activity, and forcing it upon them risks damaging their fragile, developing brains and bodies. Most children who experience sexual abuse start wetting the bed, having nightmares, have trouble sleeping or start thumb sucking.
There are often signs that a child has been sexually abused, even if they are subtle. Abusers find various ways of keeping their victims quiet, which can be easy with a child who scared of getting themselves or their abuser into trouble. Most of the ways they’ll hint at what’s going on are inadvertent.
2. Sexual Behavior
If a child engages in sexually inappropriate behavior or uses sexual language, it’s a serious red flag. Beyond innocent exploration, a child has no reason to display sexual behavior with themselves or inanimate objects.
3. Becoming Withdrawn or Clingy
Sexual abuse is incredibly emotionally draining for a child, who is experiencing feelings they’re not developed enough to process. Additionally, the weight of keeping a secret and potential physical symptoms can make them become withdrawn or clingy. The child might start finding ways to try and avoid their abuser, so it’s vital that family members pay attention when a young person has a serious aversion to someone.
Sexual abuse is likely to cause a child to regress and start demonstrating behavior such as bedwetting or always wanting to sleep in their parent’s bed. Trauma has a profound impact on the brain, flooding the nervous system with signals to activate their fight or flight responses. Being in a constant state of panic is likely to have other side-effects, such as regressing back to behaviors from younger days.
5. Sudden, Seemingly Irrational Fears
Another repercussion of trauma and the permanent activation of the sympathetic nervous system is paralyzing fear. A child that was once adventurous and outgoing can become afraid of everything and get very set in their ways. If the smallest change to a child’s routine causes major disruption and this had never happened before, sexual abuse is a possibility.
When a young person suddenly becomes fearful, it’s vital to spend time with them to try and understand why. Any sudden or seemingly irrational emotion must be explored in detail, even if it’s aggression or anger. In most cases, when a child is acting up, there’s a clear reason behind it — whether it’s the result of internal or external factors.
6. Physical Signs
The most obvious signals that sexual abuse has occurred are physical signs such as sexually transmitted diseases, bruising around the genital area and bleeding from the anus or vagina. Children are incredibly sensitive, but they’re also highly susceptible to abuse because they’re so vulnerable.
Abusers often tell them that they’ll get into trouble if they tell anyone or that bad things will happen to them or their loved ones. As such, in many cases, it’s vital to watch out for physical signs because young people can become highly adept as masking their true feelings and experiences.
7. Problems at School
While problems at school can arise for a number of reasons, abuse could be to blame if a kid that never used to get into trouble is suddenly always running into problems. Hiding something as difficult and shame-inducing as sexual abuse can take up a lot of energy and willpower, which means there’s none left to direct towards daily life.
8. Secrecy Around Phone and Internet Use
Today’s parents are contending with an entire world that wasn’t around when they were young people. As a result, the internet can be a blind spot for many people — and abusers can take advantage of this.
Young people are naturally secretive about their personal lives, but if a child is going out of their way to make sure no-one looks at their phone and spends a large amount of time in private with their phone or computer, there could be good reason for concern.
9. Unexplained Gifts
In some cases, abusers offer to exchange gifts for sexual favors. Unexplained jewelry, cellphones, clothing or any expensive gift that seems to have come from no-where is almost always cause for concern.
10. Pain When Using the Toilet
Persistent or recurring pain during urination or bowel movements are a sign that the genitals may have been traumatized. If a child seems to be in pain when using the toilet, there’s a risk that they’re struggling with sexual abuse.
Get Help Today, If You Recognize Signs of Sexual Abuse
The above warning signs can help anyone to identify child sexual abuse. If this terrible situation is affecting you or a family member, please seek help today. Individual therapy, couples therapy or family therapy can help.