Child Sexual Abuse - The Warning Signs

Sexual abuse was in the news again last week. I know, that was the opening of my last blog, and it’s heart breaking.

The Orange County Register reported last week that USA Swimming ignored or covered up hundreds of sexual abuse cases over the last 20 years – 597 alleged cases since 1997. This comes on the heels of the devastatingly similar events at USA Gymnastics.

Sexual abuse can happen in any community. It crosses social and economic barriers. And it’s tragically more common that many people believe. Since my last blog, some people have asked about the possible warning signs that a child bay be being abused or is at risk.

First, if you suspect a child is being abused:

Also, school personnel, counselors and therapists, law enforcement and most healthcare workers are mandated to report child abuse.

Children and adolescents may show signs they are being sexually abused. No one sign means a child was sexually abused. But if several appear, it may be time to ask questions or seek help. It’s also important to remember that some of these signs can show up as a result of other stressors in a child’s life, including parental divorce, death of someone close, or other anxiety-provoking or traumatic events.

Signs You May See in a Child or Adolescent:

  • Nightmares or other sleep problems, such as insomnia or night terrors,

  • Unusually aggressive behavior toward friends, family members or pets,

  • Excessive masturbation,

  • Refuses to eat, eats compulsively or has unexplained gagging,

  • Sudden mood swings – anger, rage, fear, insecurity, withdrawal,

  • Bed wetting,

  • Vaginal bleeding before it’s age appropriate,

  • Refusal to speak about a secret shared with an older friend or an older child,

  • Shows adult-like sexual behavior, language or information,

  • Pain, discoloration or discharge in genitals, anus or mouth,

  • Persistent or recurring pain during urination or bowel movements,

  • Wetting or soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training.

For Younger Children:

  • Bed wetting or thumb sucking,

  • Resists removing clothes at appropriate times – bed, bath, diapering, toileting,

  • Asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games,

  • Mimics sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animals.

For Adolescents:

  • Self-injury – cutting, burning, or piercing,

  • Inadequate personal hygiene,

  • Drug and/or alcohol use,

  • Sexual promiscuity

  • Running away from home,

  • Depression, anxiety,

  • Suicide attempts,

  • Fear of intimacy or closeness,

If you suspect your child has been sexually abused, don’t hesitate to get help. How parents respond is most important factor in a child’s recovery from abuse. I’ve worked with several adults who’ve sought therapy years after they told a parent they were being abused and the parent either did nothing or didn’t believe them.

If you think your child is being sexually abused contact your family doctor for an examination and a test for sexually transmitted diseases. Also, again:

You can also call the police and/or your child’s school.

If you’re still struggling with the effects of childhood trauma, or if you believe a child you know is being abused, I’m here to help. I offer therapy for adults who were abused as children. I also work with families that have experienced child abuse or other trauma. I have resources available for parents seeking therapy for children. You can download my booklet “Self-Care Tips for Trauma Survivors” here. You can also find more self-care tips on the Resources page of my Web site. Feel free to contact me at (812) 371-6330, or at