How to Spot the Signs of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse of children is a serious crime that can have lasting effects on a child’s health and mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, such abuse happens far too often, with hundreds of child sexual abuse cases reported daily. In response to these crimes, Pennsylvania has started to conduct grand jury investigations into the matter, with other states planning to do the same.
While such investigations are a huge step in preventing and prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse, many more cases go unreported. Depending on the behavior of the abuser, children may never speak up about their experiences, either because they believe nothing is wrong with what’s happening, or because the abuser has encouraged or threatened the child to keep it a secret.
These circumstances can make it difficult for child sexual abuse cases to come to light, but there are other warning signs that can help identify and stop the abuse from continuing. When responsible adults can recognize signs of sexual abuse, they can step in and help minimize the impact of the abuse on the child’s life.
What Are the Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children?
Paying attention to a child’s behavior is one of the keys to recognizing child abuse, as sudden changes can serve as a red flag. Some signs to pay attention to are:
- Not wanting to be left alone with certain people
- Fear of separation from caretakers
- Resuming behaviors that a child had previously outgrown, like thumb sucking and bedwetting
- Unnatural levels of worry or fearfulness
- Sexual behavior or knowledge of sexual topics inappropriate for the child’s age
There can also be physical warning signs, like unexplained bruising, bleeding, and signs of blood on bedsheets. Some children can even experience symptoms of STIs due to sexual abuse. The more of these warning signs that happen in tandem, the more likely it is the child has experienced abuse.
What Are the Signs That an Adult May Be Abusing a Child?
Just as important as recognizing warning signs of abuse in children is recognizing when an adult may be engaging in sexually abusive behavior. Some signs are:
- Does not respect a child’s boundaries
- Acts like a friend rather than acting as an adult
- Makes up excuses to be alone with a child
- Spends time alone with children outside of the adult’s role
- Expresses unusual interest in a child’s sexual development
- Touches a child in ways the child’s guardian have indicated as unwanted
- Doesn’t have relationships that are age-appropriate
Like cases of sexual abuse in adults, the perpetrator in a child sexual abuse case is likely to be someone that the child knows and trusts. This can make it hard to speak up against abuse or to even believe that anything inappropriate is happening. However, when warning signs appear, both in children and adults, it’s better to act.
Stepping In to Prevent Child Abuse
If you don’t have any concrete proof of child sexual abuse, you may worry about making a false accusation. However, it’s much safer to act than leave the problem unattended to. Sometimes something as small as having a bad feeling or a child mentioning they’re uncomfortable around someone can be an indicator.
To help keep children safe, you should contact your local sexual assault service provider when you suspect inappropriate behavior is happening. You should also talk to the child to see if anything is bothering them. If possible, you should avoid situations where the child is likely to end up in an unsafe situation. Because of the closeness of many abusers, this can mean making drastic changes to your and your child’s schedule, but it’s ultimately worth it if it means protecting them. If a child does mention sexually abusive behaviors, don’t hesitate to report the situation to the authorities.