Behavioral Changes That May Indicate Someone Is Being Sexually Abused

Sexual abuse is a rampant crime that is sadly only reported a fraction of the time. Many sexual abuse and assault victims suffer in silence due to fear, intimidation, physical or mental incapacitation, or being too young to understand what is happening. It is vital for loved ones to be aware of the behavioral signs that could point to sexual abuse – especially in children.

Infants and Toddlers (0-4)

The behavioral signs of sexual abuse can vary drastically based on the age of the victim. From birth until around age four, a child may not be able to put what he or she is dealing with into words. However, an infant’s behaviors may change enough to become noticeable to parents or care providers. Examples include:

  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Persistent signs of distress or anxiety
  • Being extra clingy
  • Trouble or pain while swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fear of being touched or held
  • Fear of a certain person or place
  • Reluctance to play with other children
  • Regression, such as reverting to thumb-sucking
  • Delayed milestones or developmental disorders

Infants and toddlers will not understand the nature of sexual crimes committed against them. They may be too confused or afraid to talk about it, especially if the perpetrator is a family member or someone the child trusts. If you notice any potential signs of sexual abuse in an infant, speak up at once.

Children (5-11)

As a child sexual abuse victim in Kansas gets older, the signs of distress and trauma can transform into more pronounced warning signs. These may include:

  • New knowledge of sexual subjects or words for private parts
  • Drawings of private parts or sexual acts
  • Excessive touching of their own private parts
  • Mimicking sexual acts with friends or toys
  • Regression to behave more like a younger child
  • Nightmares or trouble sleeping
  • Wetting the bed (unrelated to potty training)
  • Reluctance to get undressed or take a bath
  • Chronic stomachaches or health problems
  • Insecurity or low self-esteem
  • Abrupt outbursts, anger or aggression

Being enrolled in school can lead to other signs of sexual abuse, such as being unable to concentrate in class, acting out, skipping classes, fear of a certain teacher, poor overall performance, isolation from other children, and bullying or being bullied.

Adolescents and Teens (12-17)

Children in their pre-teen and teenage years are more capable of speaking up about sexual abuse. However, many stay silent for a multitude of reasons. Behavioral indicators of sexual abuse at this age may include:

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Isolation from others
  • Low self-esteem or self-confidence 
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Eating disorders
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Truancy (skipping school)
  • Running away from home
  • Getting into fights or legal trouble
  • Substance use or abuse
  • Self-harm behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

The signs of sexual abuse in an older child can involve more adult activities, such as substance abuse and romantic relationships (including consensual sexual activity). Parents should not dismiss these as just “normal” signs of aging without having a talk about sexual abuse.

What to Do if You Suspect Sexual Abuse

Behavioral changes alone may not be a definitive indicator of sexual abuse. However, they should raise concerns and warrant an open conversation with your child or loved one. If you have reason to think someone you know is being sexually abused, approach the topic with sensitivity and awareness.

When speaking to a child, be sure to express that he or she is not in trouble and is in a safe place. If you are told anything alarming, report your suspicions to the authorities. This may include the police or Child Protective Services. Make sure the child receives the medical and emotional care that he or she needs. Then, contact DRZ Law for a free, confidential child sexual abuse case review. Your family may be eligible for financial compensation.

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