Abby was excited for her birthday party. She was finally turning 8! The whole family was invited including all her aunts, uncles, and cousins. But when Uncle Josh walked in the door, she suddenly became scared and ran to her mother. “What could be going on with Abby?”, her mother wondered, “She was so excited for her party”.
Abby’s reaction to her uncle may be a sign that something more is going on. How would you know if your child has been sexually abused? There are several signs to look for that could indicate that your child may have experienced child sexual abuse.
- Reverting to younger behaviors (bet wetting, thumb sucking, tantrums, or baby talk)
- Not wanting to be left alone, especially with certain people
- Not wanting to change clothes or bathe
- Nightmares, waking up crying, or other sleep problems
- Changes in eating habits (eating more or less, avoiding foods previously liked)
- Draws frightening or sexual images
- Inappropriate sexual behavior for the child’s age
- Keeping secrets, not wanting to talk
- Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, knowledge, or language
- Running away from home
- Lack of or change in personal hygiene
- Disordered eating
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- Pain when urinating or with bowel movements
- Underwear stained with blood or other discharge
- Increase in unexplained health problems (headaches, stomachaches)
- Problems walking or sitting
- Physical pain or itching in the genital area
- Rectal bleeding
- Unexplained bruising, particularly around genitals
- Change in mood or personality including increased aggression, irritability
- Loss or decrease in interest in areas such as school, friends, or activities previously liked
- Excessive fear or worry
- Fear of being left alone, clinginess
- Self harming behaviors including hitting or scratching self, pulling out hair
- Increased self-isolation, crying, low self-esteem
- Decrease in self-confidence or self-image
- Negative self-talk (calling themselves bad, ugly)
- Severe depression and/or anxiety
Signs Usually Seen in Adolescents
- Fear of intimacy or closeness
- Suicide ideation or attempts
- Self harming behaviors such as cutting, burning
- Drug and alcohol use
- Out of control/risky sexual behavior
- Urinary tract infections, yeast infections, STIs
Listen and Believe
- If your child discloses abuse, listen and believe.
- Do not interrupt or ask questions to begin with.
- They may not be ready to fully disclose what has happened or is happening.
- Your child may give clues that you can follow up on to gather more information.
- If it is confirmed that sexual abuse happened, don’t shame your child in any way.
- Be encouraging, supportive.
- Get in touch with your local child protective services, sexual assault advocates, or law enforcement. (They can guide you in the steps you will need to take to report the abuse.)
Create a Safety Plan
- If you know the person who sexually abused your child, keep the child away from this person.
- If you are unsure who the perpetrator is, avoid having your child in potentially unsafe situations such as sleepovers, family parties, or leaving them alone with other adults.
- If your child was abused by another child in your own home, try to ensure that they are not left alone at any time.
- If the abuse was by a child at school, a cousin, or neighbor, talk to those who can help you create a safety plan.
- Watch for signs from your child when they are around people. This may give you more information.
- You may need to make major changes in your life to keep your child away from the perpetrator such as not attending family gatherings and such. Create a safety plan with your child so they know they are safe.
- This may include a safe word that indicates they feel uncomfortable or need to leave a situation.
Get help for your child
- This may include a trauma informed therapist or one that specializes in play therapy depending on the age of your child.
- Much of the time, if the law is involved, you will have access to a victim’s advocate that can help pay for any services your child needs.
- Continue to be supportive of your child by listening and being encouraging.