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Possible Signs of Sexual Abuse

by annie

Be aware that any of these symptoms or signs in a child may not necessarily mean he/she is a victim of sexual abuse. These are simply common characteristics children display when they have been abused and can be used to help identify possible problems in a child's life that warrants attention. If you know of signs not listed, please email them to us.

Possible Physical or Visible Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Social or geographic isolation of family (incest)
  • Daughter/mother role-reversal (incest)
  • Father doting/lavishing gifts on select child (incest)
  • Children forced into parental roles (incest)
  • Sexually-transmitted disease
  • Unexplained pregnancies
  • Bruising/bleeding in rectal, thigh, and/or genital areas
  • Complaints of stomach and abdominal pain
  • Evidence of regressive bedwetting, incontinence, etc
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections
  • Yeast infections
  • Drastic weight loss/gain
  • Evidence of purging food
  • Foul oders emanating from genitalia
  • Vaginal or penile discharge
  • Lubricant residue
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Radical change of appearance
  • Signs of exhaustion/lack of sleep
  • Possession of unexplained gifts or money 
  • Signs of intoxication after spending time w/adult or older adolescent

Possible Behaviorial Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Sexually-precocious or attempts to mask seductive behavior
  • Hides secondary sexual characteristics
  • Attempts to be unattractive
  • Abnormal sexual knowledge
  • Radical mood swings 
  • Sense of danger where he/she lives
  • Change in eating habits (bulimia, anorexia, or compulsive eating)
  • Inappropriately seductive
  • Apparent boredom w/age peers and age appropriate activities
  • Nightmares, insomnia, sleepwalking and other sleep disturbances
  • Radical change in school performance for better or worse
  • Fearful about certain people
  • Over achievement 
  • Depression, crying episodes, etc.
  • Substance abuse/addiction
  • Expression of "damaged goods" syndrome
  • Angry, hostile or aggressive behavior
  • Fear of adult or adolescent
  • Fear of being photographed
  • Anxiety reaction to authority figures
  • Fear of undressing or refusal to undress in gym class 
  • Pseudo-mature/overly-compliant or accommodating
  • Regressive, babyish behavior
  • Intense efforts to gain attention/affection from adults
  • Spending inordinate amounts of time in game rooms, arcades. etc
  • Recruiting other children to become involved with an adult
  • Suicidal thinking, gestures, and attempts 
  • Hints regarding sexual behavior
  • Fear of nurturing/withdrawal/impaired ability to trust
  • Self-mutalative behavior 
  • Find reasons to not go home (helping teachers, etc.)
  • Neurological and verbal expressive delays
  • Killing/torturing domestic animals 
  • Self-hatred
  • Memory loss
  • Runaway
  • Fear of the dark
  • Find reasons to not be with someone they used to spend time with (or any change of behavior toward a friend or family member)
  • Unable to concentrate, daydreaming, 'spacing out', 'in a world of their own'
  • Withdrawn, isolated, or excessively worried
  • Excessive or early masterbation
  • Starts sucking thumb or fingers (toddlers and young children) I know this one, because that's what I started doing when my father started abusing me. My mom couldn't figure out why I suddenly started sucking my thumb as a toddler. I still haven't stopped. It's my security blanket, it relaxes me. - D
  • Becomes a perpetrator, targeting a child, sibling, or friend
  • Fear of parent leaving her. (My daughter begged me not to go, even when her dad was here at home.) -D
  • Inappropriate kissing in young children. (When kissing my children goodnight, the kiss from them was prolonged and seemed passionate.) -D
  • Nervous or fearful around adults, in particular, men. -D
  • Not wanting someone, including a parent, to change his/her diaper or give him/her a bath. -D
  • Imaginary friend(s) -D
  • The one major sign of sexual abuse we've encountered is bowel movement accidents in older toilet trained children.

This list is comprised of signs and symptoms observed by therapists, parents, and survivors. Some have been sent in to us by our readers. They may or may not indicate your child is being abused. Some can be symptomatic of another problem. Be sure to email us with any signs we've missed!

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