Signs of Sexual Abuse

by Jeannie Moore

Sexual abuse is widespread. Some estimate that as many as a third of all girls are molested. And it’s damaging; it brings physical, emotional, and psychological trauma that may last a lifetime.

Children often keep sexual abuse a secret. Sometimes they do so because they don’t have the language to describe it. Or they are frightened because of threats by the perpetrator. Many don’t come forward because they believe they are to blame. So parents and other adults need to know the signs that will enable them to discover sexual abuse and end it.

Physical signs

  • torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
  • painful swelling or itching of the genital area
  • frequent urinary or yeast infections
  • venereal disease
  • complaints about stomachaches, headaches, body joint pain, etc.

Emotional signs

  • nightmares
  • depression
  • flashbacks
  • aggression
  • alienation
  • distrust
  • self-destructive behaviors

In adolescents

  • disturbed sleep patterns
  • choosing friends with behavior problems
  • lying
  • inability to concentrate
  • poor grades
  • withdrawal from peers: difficulty finding and keeping friends
  • difficulty trusting others
  • suicidal threats or ideation (thoughts about suicide or what it would be like to die)
  • poor body image
  • eating disorders
  • wearing layered clothes to provide protection and make body unappealing
  • confusion over sexual identity
  • babylike behavior
  • high level of anxiety
  • behaviors similar to attention-deficit disorder