Warning Signs in Children and Adolescents of Possible Child Sexual Abuse

If you have ever spoken with someone who was sexually abused as a child, you recognize its significant consequences to the person’s self-image, ability to have healthy relationships, behavior, learning capacity and overall emotional health. Their stories devastate us, but seem to be so prevalent in our culture. Moreover, when you add the number of children that are trafficked for reasons of sex slavery or child pornography, it is beyond difficult to think of how many children are victimized.

Warning signs of sexual abuse in children and teens from

depressed teen boy
Sexual abuse in teens could have many signs and which can be magnified or emerge during times of stress.

We have a number of resources today on the topic of sexual abuse. One that I think is quite helpful is the website STOP IT NOW.  My post today comes from this site. And while the site has general information (like I am posting) it also has plentiful other resources and links such as specific questions you might ask about child sexual abuse.

Keep in mind that some of the signs listed below can emerge especially at times of stress such as:

  • During a divorce
  • Death of a family member or pet
  • Problems at school or with friends
  • Other anxiety-inducing or traumatic events

Here are warning signs.

Please note that any one sign does not signify a child was sexually abused, but the presence of several signs suggests it would be good to begin asking questions and consider seeking help.)

Behavior you may see in a child or adolescent

  • Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
  • Seems distracted or distant at odd times
  • Has a sudden change in eating habits
  • Refuses to eat
  • Loses or drastically increases appetite
  • Has trouble swallowing
  • Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
  • Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
  • Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images
  • Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places
  • Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
  • Talks about a new older friend
  • Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason
  • Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad
  • Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge
  • Signs more typical of younger children
  • An older child behaving like a younger child (such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking)
  • Has new words for private body parts
  • Resists removing clothes when appropriate times (bath, bed, toileting, diapering)
  • Asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games
  • Mimics adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animal
  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

Signs more typical in adolescents

  • Self-injury (cutting, burning)
  • Inadequate personal hygiene
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Running away from home
  • Depression, anxiety
  • Suicide attempts
  • Fear of intimacy or closeness
  • Compulsive eating or dieting

Physical warning signs

Physical signs of sexual abuse are rare. If you see these signs, bring your child to a doctor. Your doctor can help you understand what may be happening and test for sexually transmitted diseases.

  • Pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth
  • Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements
  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

What You Can Do If You See Warning Signs

Don’t wait for “proof” of child sexual abuse.

The site offers an online help center

If you have questions or would like resources or guidance for responding to a specific situation, visit our Online Help Center, Remember, the most effective prevention takes place before there’s a child victim to heal or an offender to punish.

This entire article is a great one to share with those you know who have children or adolescents. Sexual abuse in childhood is something that we are should be vigiliant to stop. This is one trauma in which we all have to be caregivers to protect our precious little ones.

Thanks so much for being a part of that and for reading Lakeside Connect.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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