Signs of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is usually uncovered when either a victim self-reports the abuse; someone witnesses the abuse or observes behavior that causes suspicion and investigation; or a child contracts a sexually transmitted disease or becomes pregnant. Keep in mind that the signs of abuse may vary according to a child's age. Look for:
- Behavioral changes, such as unusually excessive crying, fear of certain people or places, regression to behavior a child has previously outgrown (such as thumb-sucking, stranger anxiety, aggression or domineering behavior, refusal to cooperate), acting much older than they are, depression or withdrawal, nightmares, feelings of shame or guilt, excessive protective behavior for siblings, running away from home or having trouble in school.
- Health issues, such as vomiting, bowel problems, bed-wetting, sleep disturbances, substance or drug abuse, eating disorders, excessive washing, chronic headaches or stomachaches.
- Sexual issues. Sexual abusers often groom their victims through regular interaction and have a level of control over these children and youths that scares them so much they will not tell anyone. The most important thing we can do to protect the children we love is to be open and aware, listen and ensure they feel safe talking with us about sexual issues or reporting abuse. If you suspect a child in your family is being abused, get a medical and psychological evaluation for the child right away and report the abuse to the authorities.
Also of interest: Family communication: Then and now.
Amy Goyer is AARP's family, parenting and grandparenting expert.