How to Recognize Child Sexual Abuse Victims, What are the Signs?

There is no singular profile of child sexual abuse victims. Every child’s response is unique. Some victims respond with extreme perfection and may appear to excel in many areas (social, academic, or extra-curricular activities) while actually they are suffering in silence. Others may act out, either against themselves via self-harm or against others by becoming aggressive and angry. 

Red Flags

Inappropriate Sexual Behaviors in Elementary School Age Children

  • Interprets social gestures as sexual 
  • Displays explicit sexual knowledge 
  • Mimics adult sexual behaviors 
  • Exhibits sexual behaviors in public, on the phone, or online 
  • Prefers to play with younger/smaller children
  • Favors secret or “special” games 
  • Uses physical or verbal threats/harassment (sexual or otherwise)

Behavioral Signs of Sexual Abuse 

  • Nightmares
  • Use of adult sexual language
  • Excessive masturbation
  • Verbal, physical or sexual abuse of others
  • Regression to bedwetting
  • Psychosomatic complaints (children who may visit the school nurse often.)
  • Interest in fire – drawing, discussing and setting fires

Additional Signs to Note

  • Changes in body weight (increase or decrease)
  • Running away from home
  • Suicide attempts
  • Personal hygiene changes
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-harm
  • Substance use and abuse

Emotional Signs of Sexual Abuse 

  • Unexpected sadness and/or crying
  • Depressed mood
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Fear of certain people
  • Fear of certain situations
  • Difficulty trusting others

Physical Signs of Sexual Abuse

Often there are no outward physical signs of sexual abuse. And as you have learned, sexual abuse may present in a variety of ways. It can be non-physical (via child sexual abuse material—the new term for child pornography)—and may leave no sign of obvious injury. 

Here is a list of physical signs (red flags) that should be given immediate professional attention, medical as well as prompt reports to appropriate authorities: 

  • Torn or bloody clothing
  • Complaints of generalized pain
  • Injury to the genital area
  • Redness or rash in genital or anal area
  • Problems walking or sitting
  • Genital infections
  • Chronic stomach aches/headaches/vomiting 
  • Pregnancy 

Child sexual abuse is one of the leading health concerns facing children today. It is also one of the most underreported crimes in our society. Behavioral, educational and medical challenges often last a lifetime for children who have suffered the trauma of child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Reported statistics reveal that 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 13 boys will report sexual abuse before the age of 18. The actual numbers are even more tragic as most children NEVER report. 

A child who suffers from sexual abuse can face a powerless and unhealthy future of depression, alcohol and drug abuse, increased school dropout rates, domestic violence, teen pregnancy, suicide and a much higher incidence of medical issues. 

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