I am pretty sure the first place I learned the term “sexual abuse” was during a health lesson in elementary school. Although I was being abused at the time, the connection between what was happening to me and what I read in my book did not exist. If you research signs of sexual abuse or something similar, there is a fairly consist list of “symptoms” a person may exhibit if they are being abused. While I firmly believe in the importance of knowing the signs, I also know that if we rely solely on the lists, there are many children that may not be identified as victims because they do not demonstrate the signs in a typical manner.
So, what are the signs of sexual abuse?
- Acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects
- Nightmares/sleeping problems
- Becoming withdrawn or very clingy
- Becoming unusually secretive
- Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings, and seeming insecure
- Regressing to younger behaviors, e.g., bedwetting
- Unaccountable fear of particular places or people
- Outbursts of anger
- Changes in eating habits
- New adult words or body parts and no obvious source
- Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts
- Self-harm (cutting, burning, or other harmful activities)
- Physical signs, such as, unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals or mouth, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy
- Running away
- Not wanting to be alone with a particular person
List is compiled by:
This is clearly not an exhaustive list. These are just a few of the signs of sexual abuse in children. It is extremely important to realize that some children will exhibit many of these signs as a result of other circumstances in life (not necessarily abuse, but likely something traumatic), while other children will experience none of these signs and have endured significant abuse. We can’t simply rely on checklists to determine what is taking place in a child’s life.
Parents and caregivers must be attuned to their children. God has created each child with a unique personality intricately woven together. It is our responsibility to know what “normal” is for a child and to be able to readily identify when something seems “off.” From there, we must be ready to have the “not so easy,” but absolutely necessary conversations to discover what is taking place in the child’s life. It may not always be abuse, but if a child is experiencing any the distressing “signs” listed above, they need someone to intervene and assist them through the difficult time.
If you are unsure of how to start the conversation with a child about potential abuse, visit this website for some tips. RAINN is a great website and resource for further information. Feel free to leave me a question in the comment section.