Estimates on the rate of child sexual abuse vary but are consistently alarming. A conservative assessment is that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
Over 60% of child sexual abuse victims never tell anyone about it. Those who do are often adults by the time they share their trauma. They’ve already suffered the emotional damage for years.
As a parent, how are you to ensure your child’s safety from sexual predators? And if the worst happens, how will you be able to find out and seek justice?
There are red flags for sexual abuse that every parent should be aware of. Children who have experienced sexual abuse also often exhibit telltale signs.
If you are a parent or caring adult who wants to protect the children in your life, read on for how to spot signs of child sexual abuse.
Being Vigilant: How to Stop Child Sexual Abuse Before It Starts
The best-case scenario involving child sexual abuse is to recognize and stop it before it happens. It’s important to know what to watch out for and to understand who typically commits this sort of abuse.
About 90% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows. In most of these cases, the abuser is someone the family trusts, including other family members. The younger the child, the more likely it is that the abuser will be a family member.
Other familiar perpetrators tend to be clergy abuse or other authority figures in the child’s life, such as a teacher or sports coach.
Typically, an abuser will engage in manipulative child grooming behaviors prior to initiating sexual contact. Examples of grooming behaviors are:
- Giving the child special attention
- Giving the child gifts
- Excessively touching the child
- Fostering secretiveness in the relationship
- Offering to help the family to gain time alone with the child
- Engaging in online communication with the child
If you see an adult engaging in these sorts of behaviors, find a way to intervene.
Signs That a Child Has Experienced Sexual Abuse
Children may exhibit any one of the various signs of child sexual abuse. Many of them are difficult to distinguish from other forms of distress or trauma.
One of the most common signs that abuse has occurred is that the child will exhibit sexual behavior or use language inappropriate to their age. This may include touching other children inappropriately or demonstrating excessive sexual knowledge.
Physical signs are relatively rare, but include:
- Bruises or bleeding around the genitals
- Urinary tract or sexual-transmitted infections
- Painful urination or bowel movements
Psychological/emotional signs are more common and include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Regression to younger behaviors
- Sudden changes in academic performance
- Withdrawal from other people or physical contact
- Low self-esteem
- Excessive concern for a sibling
- Changes in hygiene, such as refusal to bathe or excessively showering
It’s easy to think that the trauma of sexual abuse will never affect your family, and it hopefully never will. However, if the worst comes to pass, you as a caretaker should be prepared to recognize it and take action.
Responding to Child Sexual Abuse
If you suspect that a child has been a victim of child sexual abuse, how you respond can make a huge impact on their healing and the pursuit of justice.
The most important things to do are to take the child seriously and to get in touch with local police, child protective services, or both.