A Guide for Parents
Sexual trauma doesn’t discriminate, and can happen to any kid in any context. The prevention tips in a recent post, (click here to read), are extremely helpful, but unfortunately can’t be a guarantee. It is helpful as parents or caregivers to be familiar with some of the signs that children might display if they have been sexually abused.
Signs and Symptoms
Children who are sexually abused have vastly different experiences, and react in vastly different ways. This list is by no means a catch-all of the signs that a child might have been abused, and the behaviors on the list are also not always specific to sexual abuse! Bearing that in mind, the list below includes some of the signs we often see displayed in children who are experiencing, (or have experienced in the past), sexual abuse.
- Withdrawal: from friends, from family, from specific people, from activities.
- Mood changes: moodiness, anger, irritability, depression, anxiety, etc.
- Fears: of certain people or places, of being left alone or with a sitter, general hypervigilance, etc.
- Acting out: at school or at home, being aggressive or easily “set-off”.
- Sexualized behavior: sexual language, sexual play or motions with toys or with others.
- Regressive behavior: behavior that seems too “young” for the child; i.e., wetting the bed, sucking their thumb, throwing tantrums.
- Nightmares: or fear of/difficulty sleeping.
- Changes in hygiene: sudden or gradual disregard for personal hygiene, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, a preoccupation with cleaning or showering.
- Change in academic or other performance: difficulty concentrating, poor grades, ADHD-like symptoms.
- Physical concerns: such as gastrointestinal problems, UTI’s, body pain with sitting or walking
- Uncharacteristic behavior, or an increase in risky behavior: substance use, promiscuity, suicidality, self harm, for example
Again, if you feel like you’ve noticed 1 or even several of the above-listed behaviors in your child, it is not a guarantee that they have experienced abuse. However, it is a good reason to get curious about what your child is feeling or processing, as well as whether or not your child is safe.
Support is Available
If you have any concerns that your child may not be safe or may have experienced something traumatic, please don’t hesitate to reach out to someone. Even with all of the precautions and good communication, sexual abuse can occur, and it is such a confusing and difficult thing for a child- it’s never a bad idea to seek out a professional. With the appropriate help, care, and support, a child, (and his or her family), can reach a place of real healing and restoration.