No parent or caretaker wants to be faced with the reality that a child in their care is being sexually abused. But in the world we live in today, this reality is far too commonplace.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 1-in-5 girls and 1-in-20 boys is a victim of child abuse in America. But the reality is that these numbers could be higher as child sexual abuse is often not reported until many years down-the-line.
Here are the signs of sexual abuse in children to be aware of as a friend, family member, or concerned member of society.
Sexual Abuse in Children: Know the Signs
Sexual abuse in young children can take many different forms. Most commonly, it includes actions such as inappropriate sexual touching, sharing obscene imagery with a child, or taking inappropriate photos or videos of a child.
The tragic reality is that it’s not always easy for children to recognize what is actually happening, or to understand that it’s wrong. Only later on in life do the post-traumatic effects present themselves. Luckily, the statute of limitations on filing a childhood sexual assault case has been extended — you can read more in this article.
So, what are the warning signs of sexual abuse in children?
The Physical, Behavioral, and Emotional Symptoms
Some children may present with physical symptoms including a sexually transmitted infection, or signs of sexual trauma. This could include bruising, unexplained bleeding, or a physical withdrawal from human touch.
In terms of behavior, there are a few key symptoms that will present themselves, some of which may not seem obvious at the time. Behavioral red flags include:
- An unusual amount of talk or fascination with sexual topics
- Being secretive or withdrawn
- Becoming especially clingy i.e. not wanting to be left alone with anyone
- Regressive behaviors often include bedwetting, thumb-sucking, night sweats, and sleepwalking
- Becoming reclusive and not wanting to socialize with friends or family
- Sexual knowledge or behavior that is inappropriate for a child’s age
- Avoiding bath time and the need to remove clothing
Along with the physical and behavioral changes in a child, they will also display emotional red flags, but these are not always easy to notice, especially if a child is very young.
But generally, they tend to include a change in eating habits or appetite, aggressive behavior, overly compliant behavior, increased anxiety, or worry. In older children, symptoms include self-harming behavior, disinterest in school work and hobbies, and a reduced sense of self-image.
While some of these signs seem to overlap or even be contradictory, what’s most important to keep an eye on is major changes in behavior.
As a parent, it’s always wise to trust your gut, too. No one knows your child better than you. If they don’t seem like themselves, try to listen and tune in to what they tell you — even if it’s subtle.
Broaden Your Knowledge, Stay Ahead of the Times
Remember that if you suspect a case of sexual abuse in children, you must report it sooner rather than later. Make sure to talk to trained professionals who can advise you on the next crucial steps to take. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline on 0800 656 4673. Otherwise, visit online.rainn.org for more.
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