How does a parent know if their child or teenager has been sexually abused?
“They [children] report it,” Karen C. Rogers,
Statistics show only a small number of sexual abuse reports are fabricated. Depending on the study and how the questions were asked, that number can be somewhere between four- and eight-percent. So, if a child tells a parent some form of abuse happened, chances are strong he or she is telling the truth.
“The most important thing,” Rogers says, “is if a child reports it, take it seriously and reach out for help.”
Signs of Sexual Abuse — Behaviors to Note
Sexual abuse victims rarely show specific signs of abuse, and every child expresses their feelings differently. There can be subtle cues, though.
Younger abused children may have sudden behavior problems, like trouble concentrating, becoming more demanding or restless, withdrawing socially and becoming more introverted.
Older children may revert to childhood behaviors like thumb-sucking or bed-wetting. They may resist having their clothes removed for diaper changes, bath time or bedtime.
Adolescents may show signs of self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse, poor personal hygiene, anxiety and depression, sexual promiscuity, running away from home, compulsive food behavior, fear of closeness or intimacy and suicide attempts.
“A sign I’d pay attention to is the child demonstrating knowledge of adult sexual behavior,” Rogers says. “If a child is talking about adult sexual behavior, or reflecting it in their play – demonstrating knowledge and behaviors a child wouldn’t normally display at this age – that can be a strong indicator something has happened.”
That said, Rogers cautions against jumping to conclusions. A child could be exhibiting one of these behaviors for a variety of reasons, not because they’ve been sexually abused.
“There’s not a one-to-one correlation,” Rogers says. “Sometimes kids learn things from other kids. But if the child is engaging in some play or talking about something kids typically wouldn’t think of, I’d want to find out more about that.”
Some other potential signs:
- Distant or distracted behavior.
- Sleep problems or nightmares with no explanation.
- Sudden changes in eating behaviors, such as trouble swallowing, drastic weight loss and refusing to eat.
- Mood swings, insecurity, fear, rage and withdrawal.
- Drawing, dreaming, writing or playing with frightening or sexual images.
- Thoughts of the body being bad, dirty or repulsive.
- Regularly speaking about a new, older-aged friend.
What if Your Child Has Been Sexually Abused?
If you do learn your child has been sexually abused, there are steps you can take to help — and there is hope. Learn more here.