Missing the signs of child sexual abuse means you’ll allow a child who needs help to go without it, you’ll allow an abusive relationship to continue and an abuser go unpunished.
While we like to think that children will report sexual abuse directly after it occurs, this isn’t always the case, in fact, it is hardly the case except you have a very intimate relationship with the abused child which is why every parent and guardian need to be able to tell when a child is being sexually abused.
Signs a child is being sexually abused
There are different signs of child sexual abuse depending on the age of the child, the type of abuse and the child involved. Different people react differently to abuse. It’s also important to realize that even if seen, the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse may be related to another circumstance altogether and so we cannot always assume that a child is being sexually abused.
Signs of child sexual abuse are similar to those of other emotional problems such as withdrawal, depression, severe anxiety or nervousness.
Symptoms of child sexual abuse include:
- Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia
- Vague complaints of stomach pain or headaches
- Sleep problems
- Bowel disorders, such as soiling oneself (encopresis)
- Genital or rectal symptoms, such as pain during a bowel movement or urination, or vaginal itch or discharge.
In addition to the above-mentioned physical symptoms of sexual abuse, there are other specific signs to look out for. Particularly in children age 12 and younger, the following are signs of child sexual abuse:
- Lack of self-esteem/self-destructiveness – the child may make statements that they are worthless, harm themselves or even exhibit suicidal ideation.
- Advanced sexual knowledge – the child may possess knowledge beyond his level of development, specifically detailed sexual information.
- Being depressed, withdrawn or excessively fearful
- Drop in school performance
- Sexualized behavior – such as dressing seductively or acting sexually through dolls, around peers or adults. The child may also masturbate excessively.
- Distress around a particular person – the child may not want to spend time with a particular adult
- Seeking excessive time with an adult – he may also be given extra attention, gifts, privileges, etc.
- High-risk behaviors or drug use
A child may also show signs of sexual abuse in play or through art. Older children may drop hints of sexual abuse before actual disclosure to “test the waters” and see how adults will react to the news. In this case, it’s important not to lead the child’s disclosure and to be as open, caring and non-judgmental as possible.