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How Can You Tell If a Child Is Being Sexually Abused?

child sexual abuse signs

Sexual abuse is a serious violation of a person’s privacy, comfort, and rights.

Nobody should have to suffer from the atrocities of sexual abuse and this is especially important for young children. Unfortunately, it’s more common than you might expect. One in nine girls and one in every six boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. 

If a child is exposed to sexual abuse at a young age, it can stunt their mental and emotional development that will lead to lifelong challenges.

There are some common indicators of sexual abuse to a child, so you must be diligent about identifying them and putting an immediate stop to the trauma. However, if you aren’t aware of what they are, then you might be overlooking something problematic.

We’ll go over the main signs of child sexual abuse below so that you can help protect your child should any of them be present.

Who Is Likely to Be an Abuser?
The first thing you need to know is who the abuser likely is.

Most of the time, it’s someone your child already knows. Random attacks are possible but extremely unlikely.

This can be someone that your child likely spends a good amount of time with. It might be a family member, a friend of the family, a friend’s parent, a teacher, a sports coach, or anyone else that your child knows.

It can be difficult to determine exactly who it is and the results may surprise you. Try to think of anyone that your child has recently distanced themselves from, someone they’re resistant to seeing, or anyone that they’ve mentioned they just don’t like.

If you suspect someone, it’s better to avoid approaching them because they aren’t likely to fess up to the abuse and you don’t know how you’ll react. You might also falsely accuse someone innocent. Instead, eliminate any time that they and your child spend together and alert the authorities of your suspicions.
Mood or Behavioral Shifts
The first thing you should look out for is any differences in your child’s mood or behavior.

This is one of the most obvious indicators of sexual abuse, but changes can often be confused for other natural causes like puberty. Your child’s temperament may indeed change as they enter their early teens, but there’s also a possibility that the shifts are a result of sexual abuse.

A previously happy and talkative child may begin to keep to themselves and not speak much. If they were gentle and caring before, they may become aggressive and nasty afterward. Any dramatic change in their mood for the worse is a major cause for concern.

Furthermore, you should keep an eye out for any troublesome behavior. If your child begins exhibiting behavior like wetting the bed, refusing to eat, having nightmares, drawing scary images, or anything else that is out of the ordinary for them, then this may be a sign of sexual abuse.

You need to be hyper-vigilant about any dramatic changes in behavior or temperament. These can be a clear indicator of something sinister and require exploration to discover the root cause.
Physical Ailments
Another common sign of child sexual abuse will appear in the form of physical ailments.

These will typically be found in the genital area or around their bottom. This can show up as pain, bleeding, sores, discharge, discoloration, or any symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease.

You might not be aware of these issues because your child may hide them from you. You’re more likely to hear about them if they mention having any difficulties or pain while trying to use the bathroom. 

Some other physical signs that you can notice include inexplicable bruises, especially on the arms and thighs, welts, burns, broken bones, or any other injury that doesn’t seem possible based on the explanation that your child may give you.

Anytime your child has a wound, you should clearly understand why and how it happened. Failing to investigate can lead to glancing over a clear sign of sexual abuse. 
Inappropriate Sexual Behavior
If your child begins to exhibit any inappropriate sexual behavior, then this is another important cause for concern.

There are some sexual actions your child may participate in that are normal like masturbation during puberty, but others are problematic. In this example, if your child begins to masturbate while they’re still extremely young, then this can be a sign of abuse. 

Furthermore, a few things to watch out for are any sudden sexual knowledge your child may demonstrate, trying to touch or view other children’s genitals, touching their genitals in public areas, or attempting to engage in sexual games or activities with other children.

One thing to consider is the age of your child. A teenager may exhibit some of these behaviors as a normal function of growing up, but if your child is particularly young, then you need to understand why they’re doing this and where they learned it.    
Talk and Listen to Your Child
One of the most important things that you can do is speak to your child. More importantly, you should ask relevant questions and make a point of listening to them.

Your child may not feel comfortable explaining what’s happening to them and may try to hide it out of shame. Alternatively, they may drop subtle hints that you need to pick up on to understand the meaning of them. 

Don’t write off anything that your child says and ask them for an explanation. Don’t push them, but be gentle in your prodding and help them feel comfortable while you’re asking. 

Sometimes a child can be enduring sexual abuse and may not know that it’s wrong. In this scenario, they won’t know to tell you and you might need to be creative in your approach.

Understand that it isn’t your child’s responsibility to tell you what’s happening to them. Instead, you should know your child and be able to determine when something’s wrong. Pay close attention to their behavior and what they say to identify signs of sexual abuse.  
Closing Thoughts
The thought of your child enduring sexual abuse is horrifying and something you certainly don’t want to think about it. 

If your child does exhibit any signs of sexual abuse, then you must act swiftly to protect them. Some of the clear signs of wrongdoing include sudden changes to their behavior or temperament, inexplicable (or incorrectly explained) injuries, and inappropriate sexual behavior.

Make sure that your child feels supported and that they can come to you if something’s wrong. You should carefully listen to what your child says and determine when something doesn’t seem right. 

Talk to your child regularly and encourage them to open up. They may not outright tell you that they’re being abused, but your parental instinct is important for exploring the meaning of what they do or don’t say. 

No child deserves to be sexually abused and any inappropriate actions must be immediately stopped to prevent any further harm to your child.