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Possible Signs of Abuse

Children who have been sexually abused may display a wide variety of emotional, behavioral, or physical symptoms. The signs below are not all inclusive or exclusive but can serve as a guide to understanding an abused child’s behavior. If you suspect abuse, call 911.

Emotional and behavioral signs in children who may have been sexually abused
  • Child reports being abused
  • Sudden mood swings involving rage, fear, anger, or withdrawal
  • Fear of being left alone with a specific person
  • Becoming distant when a specific person is present
  • Fear of a particular place
  • Nightmares, trouble sleeping or extreme fear without a reasonable explanation
  • Unusual clinginess
  • “Spacing out” at odd times
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble eating or swallowing
  • Incorporating sexual subject matter into drawing, writing or play
  • Sexual activities with toys or other children
  • Reverting to earlier childhood behaviors, e.g. bedwetting, thumb sucking
  • Knowledge of sexual activity more extensive than what it should be for their stage of development
  • Alluding to a secret between him/herself and an adult or older child.
Possible physical signs of sexual abuse
  • Trouble sitting or standing
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections
  • Bruising, bleeding, pain, or itching in the genital area, anus, mouth or throat
  • Presence of sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy in underage child
  • Stained, torn, or bloody undergarments
  • Penile or vaginal discharge and/or odor
Possible signs of abusers
  • Insistence on touching or showing child affection even when the child resists
  • Frequently offers to babysit for free or take children on unsupervised outings
  • Requesting uninterrupted time alone with a child
  • Spending significant time with children or much younger teens, in addition to showing little interest in peers or those who are older
  • Buying children expensive or inappropriate gifts or giving them money for no reason
  • Walking in on children or teens in the bathroom, whether accidental or not
  • Significant interest in the sexuality of a particular child or teen
  • Preoccupation with pornography or sexual play with children or toys
Possible signs in relationships with older children and adolescents

When another child or an adolescent is the abuser, it may be difficult to tell the difference between sexual exploration and sexual abuse. Signs of abuse may be:

  • The potential abuser is much larger than the other child.
  • There is a difference in age of three or more years.
  • The potential abuser has power over the child, e.g. babysitter, camp counselor, neighborhood bully, gang leader.
  • The potential victim has physical, emotional, or mental delays that would inhibit his/her ability to protect themselves.
  • The abuser is making potential threats.