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Home > Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

signs of child sex abuse

Sexual abuse is one of the most significant traumas a child can endure, and children display a range of behaviors in its aftermath, which can vary from child to child. Children often cannot disclose abuse due to manipulation by the perpetrator or their inability to verbalize what has occurred.

Recognizing molestation signs can help you identify child sexual abuse quickly. Discovering your child has been sexually abused is devastating, but recognizing it early allows you to provide your child with critical support and intervention to facilitate healing and minimize long-term harm.

If your child has been sexually abused while in the care of a school, church, or other institution, our dedicated and compassionate Pennsylvania injury attorneys may be able to help you recover significant financial compensation and access to support and services for your family. Contact us today for a free consultation.

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

All children respond differently to sexual abuse, and your child most likely will not display all of the signs of sexual abuse. Some children do not display any outward signs. It is also possible for your children to have these symptoms without sexual abuse having occurred.

However, if you observe these symptoms and they are new or unusual for your child, this could be a warning sign of sexual abuse.

Physical Signs

Physical symptoms may stem directly from the abuse or indirectly as a response to the emotional trauma triggered by the abuse. Several organizations, including the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, Darkness to Light, and the National Sex Offender Public Website of the United States Department of Justice, have identified the following physical symptoms that may be warning signs of sexual abuse:

  • Injuries to the genital area, including pain, itching, bruising, or bleeding
  • Urinary or yeast infections
  • Underclothing that has been torn or stained with blood or bodily fluids
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Pain while using the bathroom
  • Wetting or soiling accidents, which are not related to potty training
  • Increased complaints of stomachaches or headaches 
  • Trouble swallowing

If you observe any of these symptoms, your child should undergo a medical examination as soon as possible. A doctor can often detect sexual contact, and your child may have injuries that require treatment. 

In addition, sexually transmitted diseases are often asymptomatic in their early stages, according to the Mayo Clinic, necessitating medical testing. These infections are often curable, but early treatment is crucial.

Behavioral & Emotional Signs

Behavioral and emotional warning signs of sexual abuse are more common than physical symptoms. A variety of stressors can cause emotional and behavioral changes, but you should be concerned if you notice sudden changes that include any of the following warning signs, especially if they are new or unusual:

  • Physical aggression
  • Oppositional behavior
  • Overly compliant behavior
  • Unexplained anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Age-inappropriate sexual knowledge and behavior
  • Unusual secretive behavior
  • Regressive behaviors
  • Withdrawal
  • Aversion to removing clothing for baths
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Decrease in self-confidence
  • Lower self-image
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Nightmares
  • Fear of being alone at night
  • Self-harm
  • Appears more distracted or distant than usual
  • New fear of certain people or places
  • Draws or role plays the abuse
  • Suddenly has money or gifts without an explanation

The most important warning sign is a disclosure that sexual abuse has occurred. Avoid making any statements that could give your child the impression that you do not believe them. 

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest Network (RAINN), 93 percent of sexual abuse of minors is perpetrated by someone the child and family know and trust. However, most people do not believe someone they know could perpetrate sexual abuse.

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Teens

According to RAINN, ages 12 to 34 are the highest risk years for sexual violence, and females ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than the general population to experience sexual assault or abuse. 

The signs of sexual abuse in teenagers can be difficult to distinguish from other mental health struggles teens face due to adolescent development.

If you notice sudden, unexplained changes in behaviors and mental health, or you just feel that something isn’t right, these could be warning signs of sexual abuse. The warning signs of sexual abuse in teens include the following:

  • Changes in weight or eating habits
  • Unexplained bruising or other signs of physical abuse
  • Depression
  • Increased anxiety
  • Academic decline
  • Changes in personal grooming or hygiene
  • Self-harm
  • Expressions of suicidal thoughts
  • Suicide attempts
  • Substance use
  • Disordered eating behaviors
  • Promiscuity
  • Running away
  • Fear of intimacy
  • Extra money or gifts without an explanation

Similarly to young children, if you suspect a teenager has been sexually abused, it is important to obtain a medical evaluation to rule out sexually transmitted infections or other physical harm. Doctors can also provide referrals to helping resources.

Warning Signs of Abusers

People who sexually abuse children look and interact like everyone else. On the surface, an abuser may appear to be a normal person who likes children. While it is important to note that not everyone who enjoys spending time with children is a sexual perpetrator, you may be able to spot red flags if you know what to look for. 

Knowing the difference between a special relationship and a sexually inappropriate one can sometimes enable you to stop abuse before it starts.

Characteristics of Abusers

Some adults who sexually abuse children show no outward signs that they would do such a thing. They seem socially well-adjusted, and they fit in with their peers. However, if you observe any of the following characteristics in an adult who spends time around children, it could be a red flag:

  • Disrespects boundaries
  • Fails to take no for an answer
  • Uses teasing or belittling language to make it harder for children to set limits
  • Insists on physical contact with teens or children, even if it is unwanted
  • Lacks age-appropriate relationships
  • Tries to make friends with children rather than maintaining an adult role
  • Tells inappropriate jokes while teens and children are present
  • Talks too often about a child’s developing body
  • Seems too good to be true when it comes to children, such as being overly willing to babysit for free
  • Has adult friends with similar behavior patterns
  • Frequently walks in on children in the bathroom
  • Allows children or teens to get away with inappropriate behavior

Indications of Grooming or an Inappropriate Relationship

If an adult exhibits the following behaviors towards a child, it could be a warning sign of grooming or that sexual abuse is already occurring: 

  • Paying significant attention to a child
  • Displaying a strong preference for a specific child
  • Excessive gift-giving to a specific child or children
  • Frequently touching or hugging a child
  • A sympathetic listener to children
  • Offering to help the family, which is a method of gaining the family’s trust
  • Contacting the child through the internet
  • Touching a child in violation of the express wishes of the child or parents
  • Confiding personal problems in the child
  • Making up excuses to be alone with the child
  • Commenting on the sexual characteristics of a child
  • Sexualizing normal behavior in the child
  • Spending excessive time with the child
  • Attempting to restrict the child’s access to other adults
  • Having secret interactions with children
  • Spending an unusual amount of time alone with children

What to Do If You Suspect Your Child Is Being Abused

If you suspect your child is being sexually abused, you should act immediately to ensure your child is safe and confirm whether abuse is occurring.

Ask Your Child

Assure your child that if anything has happened, it is not the child’s fault and that there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Do not pressure your child to disclose.

Maintain a safe environment where your child feels comfortable and safe disclosing the abuse. Your child may test you to see how you will react. Be prepared to respond with love, concern, and compassion without becoming angry or emotional. Even if your anger is directed at the abuser, your child could internalize this and shut down.

Believe Your Child

Be prepared to believe the child. Most people are shocked when they learn that someone they know and trust has sexually abused a child. You may be shocked to learn who the abuser is, which may seem unbelievable. However, if the child thinks you do not believe them, their fragile self-worth can be severely damaged.

Report the Abuse

Whether or not you successfully confirm abuse, you should report your suspicions to the appropriate authorities. Law enforcement and child protective services have the experience and resources to investigate child sexual abuse and determine whether it is occurring.

How do I Report Child Sex Abuse?

You should report child sexual abuse to the Child Protective Services Childline at 1-800-932-0313. This line is answered 24/7. If you are a mandated reporter, you may file a report electronically through the child welfare portal

Every child abuse report is handled by a trained specialist who will take the appropriate action, which may include notifying one or more of the following:

  • Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) Regional Offices
  • Your county children and youth agency
  • Law enforcement
  • The Department of Human Services

When filing a report, it is helpful to have as much specific information as possible, including the following:

  • The name and identifying information of the perpetrator and victim
  • The approximate age of the child
  • The child’s name, address, and telephone number
  • The home address and contact information of the suspected perpetrator
  • The suspected perpetrator’s relationship to the child
  • A description of the suspected abuse
  • The location where the abuse took place
  • Concerns about the child’s immediate safety
  • Your relationship to the child
  • Your contact information

If you are not a mandatory reporter, you may remain anonymous. It is not necessary to have proof of abuse or even know with 100 percent certainty that it is occurring. You only need to have a reasonable suspicion. While the above information is helpful, you do not have to have all of the information to file a report. 

Don’t wait to report abuse. A child may be depending on you to promptly file a report.

What is a Mandatory Reporter?

A mandatory reporter is an individual required by law to report suspected child abuse. According to Pennsylvania child abuse laws, nearly everyone who has regular contact with children is a mandatory reporter, including the following:

  • Health care providers
  • Funeral directors
  • Childcare provider employees who have direct contact with children
  • Clergy
  • Volunteers or paid workers who regularly work in children’s programs
  • Social workers and attorneys who work with children
  • Law enforcement officials
  • Library workers
  • Foster parents
  • Adult family members who provide childcare services 

Contact Cordisco & Saile If You or Someone You Love Has Been a Victim of Child Sex Abuse

If you or your child has experienced child sex abuse, you may be able to recover substantial compensation through a civil lawsuit against any organization that failed to prevent the abuse. Every organization that provides services to children has a legal duty to protect children from abuse, including the following:

  • Appropriate background screening of priests, teachers, and other workers
  • Adequate supervision
  • Policies and procedures that prevent adults from being alone with children
  • A zero-tolerance policy of abuse that includes immediate termination and reporting of anyone who commits sexual abuse
  • Clear and easy complaint procedures for children and parents

When you retain a caring and dedicated sexual abuse attorney at Cordisco & Saile LLC, we will identify how the church, school, or other facility failed your child and ensure you and your child receive the compensation you deserve. The pain of child sexual abuse sometimes never goes away, and derelict organizations should have to pay dearly for the harm they allowed.

Our client testimonials show that our attorneys will always stand by your side throughout your case until we achieve the case results you deserve. We will work hard to procure a generous settlement, but if the responsible parties fail to take responsibility, we are always ready and willing to fight for you in court.

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