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What are the Signs of Childhood Sexual Assault?

K. K. Lowen
K. K. Lowen

There are many signs associated with childhood sexual assault. Changes in behavior can be a major indicator, and physical signs may exist as well. It is also important to become familiar with the typical reactions of both children and teen victims of sexual assault. Other major life changes, such as divorce, could cause similar behavioral issues, but caregivers should be wary if numerous signs are present.

One of the most apparent signs that a child has become a victim of assault is if the child has sexual knowledge that is inappropriate or surprising for his or her age. Playing sexual games with other children, knowing new words for private body parts, acting out sexual acts with dolls or stuffed animals, excessive flirting or seductiveness, and talking about sex are all common among young children who have been victims of childhood sexual assault. In some extreme cases, victims may assault other children, becoming child perpetrators.

Bedwetting may be a sign of abuse in children.
Bedwetting may be a sign of abuse in children.

Caregivers should be aware of the physical signs of childhood sexual assault. The victim may refuse to undress in front of anyone, and could have trouble walking, sitting, or swallowing food. The child may try to avoid contact with a specific person without a known reason. A decreased or increased appetite, nightmare, and bedwetting are also indicators of abuse in young children. It is important to remember that physical evidence of assault may heal over time, and a child victim may hide some evidence, such as torn underwear.

Emotional behavior may also indicate childhood sexual assault. Sudden changes in behavior, such as extreme aggressiveness or passivity, could be a sign of sexual abuse if other symptoms are present. Anxiety and depression symptoms are common, including withdrawal from family and friends, becoming distracted easily, or a fear of being alone. Young child victims also may feel that their bodies are dirty or bad.

Adults should be wary if a child mentions having a secret with new adult friend. Whether or not the new friend is known by the child’s caregivers, a secret that the child refuses to tell is a bad sign. The sudden appearance of new toys, gifts, or money without reason may be suspicious also.

Signs exhibited by teen victims can be different than their younger counterparts, and new behaviors may emerge as a young victim ages. Teens may injure or cut themselves, and both drinking and drug use are common. Poor body image may lead to signs such as poor hygiene and compulsive eating or dieting. Depression, suicide attempts, promiscuity, and a fear of intimacy are all frequently seen in teen victims. Teenage sexual abuse victims often run away from home as well.

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    • Bedwetting may be a sign of abuse in children.
      By: Leonid Ikan
      Bedwetting may be a sign of abuse in children.