Warning Signs

Because most children cannot or do not tell, and physical signs are often rarely visible, concerned adults must look for behavioral and emotional changes, to indicate possible abuse. Although no one reaction alone means a child has been sexually abused, adults should pay particular attention when a child displays a significant change in behavior, particularly if that change is in combination with a sexual reaction.

Behavioral Signs

  • Physical complaints: headaches, stomachaches, etc.
  • Secretiveness
  • Statements that their bodies are dirty or damaged
  • Fear or dislike of certain people or places
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Learning problems, difficulty concentrating, change in grades
  • Withdrawal from family, friends or usual activities
  • Excessive bathing or poor hygiene
  • Return to younger, more babyish behavior
  • Depression, anxiety, or suicide attempts
  • Running away
  • Self-destructive behavior: Eating disorders or cutting
  • Passive or overly pleasing behavior
  • Low self-esteem
  • Hostility or aggression; delinquent acts, discipline problems
  • Drug or alcohol problems
  • Fire setting (more characteristic of boys)
  • Hints, indirect comments or statements about the abuse

Emotional Signs

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Confusion

Sexual Signs  

  • Copying adult sexual behavior
  • Unusual interest or avoidance of all things sexual in nature
  • Statements expressing fear that something is wrong with their genital area
  • Display of aspects of sexual molestation in drawings, games, fantasies
  • Persistent sexual play with other children, themselves, toys or pets
  • Displaying sexual knowledge beyond their age
  • Unexplained pain, swelling, bleeding or irritation of the mouth, genital or anal area
  • Urinary infections
  • Risky sexual behavior, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases
  • Adolescent prostitution

Information sources