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Signs & Symptoms of Sexual Abuse in Children

By Katherine Harder ; Updated April 18, 2017
Learn what signs and symptoms to look for when you suspect sexual abuse in a child.

While you can’t point to a single sign or symptom as definitive evidence of sexual abuse, the combination of warning signs and/or repeated symptoms warrants further investigation. If you notice these signs, you may be a child’s only hope of escape from sexual abuse.

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Physical Signs and Symptoms

Some symptoms of sexual abuse are fairly obvious: If a child has a sexually transmitted disease, damage to his genital areas or becomes pregnant, that child is almost certainly experiencing sexual abuse. If you notice bruising, redness or swelling during bath time that may also be a sign. Sometimes sexually abused children display other physical symptoms such as stomach pain, loss of appetite or dramatic weight changes. Sexually abused children may have difficulty sitting or walk strangely.

Behavioral Signs and Symptoms

Sexually abused children may behave in age-inappropriate ways. A sexually abused child may know too much about sexual actions and behave seductively. The child may engage or attempt to engage in sexual acts with younger children, mimicking the abuse he has experienced. Some children display opposite symptoms, such as fear of undressing. Since many children in these situations are traumatized, they may engage in regressive behavior, such as bedwetting or thumb sucking, or they may engage in self-destructive behavior, such as self-mutilation acts or developing eating disorders.

Parental Signs and Symptoms

Sometimes it’s the abuser who shows signs of the abuse he is inflicting. If the child you suspect is experiencing sexual abuse has severely limited contact with other children, especially children of the opposite sex, her parent or parents may be abusers. Parents who sexually abuse children often isolate themselves and their children and engage in secretive behavior. Sexually abusive parents or adults may act inappropriately when the child interacts with others.

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About the Author

Katherine Harder kicked off her writing career in 1999 in the San Antonio magazine "Xeriscapes." She's since worked many freelance gigs. Harder also ghostwrites for blogs and websites. She is the proud owner of a (surprisingly useful) Bachelor of Arts in English from Texas State University.

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