Identifying Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

Children are the most vulnerable demographic in society. They do not have the legal ability to make many of their own decisions, and they are forced to rely on the adults around them to treat them fairly and respectfully. That lack of agency is why so many abusers and sexual predators gravitate toward positions of power over kids. 

While abusers are not as common as the media implies, they do exist and get away with harming young people when other adults turn a blind eye. If you have children in your life, you must know the signs of possible abuse so you can step in to help them. Failing to take action can lead to lifetime consequences for the victims of childhood sexual abuse. 

The Lifelong Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Being sexually abused by a trusted adult does more than harm the child at the moment. Without appropriate help, ongoing abuse can lead to long-lasting consequences like:

  • Physical injuries: Certain types of abuse can cause permanent physical injuries, preventing the child’s body from developing as it otherwise would. Abused children are also at risk of catching sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which can affect their entire bodies if not treated. 
  • C-PTSD: Suffering ongoing sexual abuse as a child often causes future diagnoses of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). This condition is caused by repeated traumatic events. It includes symptoms such as flashbacks, anxiety, hyperawareness of the surroundings, dissociation, inability to regulate emotions, difficulty maintaining relationships, and strong feelings of guilt or shame. 
  • Brain damage: Studies have found that ongoing sexual abuse of children can change how their brains develop. The increase in stress hormones can damage systems in the brain related to memory recall and emotional regulation, which cannot be reversed. 

These issues can make it harder for the survivor to maintain healthy relationships and even lead to increased mortality rates long into adulthood.

Signs of Child Sex Abuse

One of the most important things you can do for the children in your life as an adult is to watch for signs of sexual abuse. Spotting the signs and investigating if you believe children are being harmed can help you end the abuse before the long-term consequences mentioned above set in. It also allows you to get the child the help they need to recover. 

Spotting the signs is more difficult than you may expect, however. Many children do not have the vocabulary to explain what they are experiencing. If they understand what’s happening, they may feel intense guilt or shame, or fear their abuser’s response if they tell other people. While you should always listen if a child reports someone is harming them, you should also watch for signs in young children like:

  • Obsession with sexual topics
  • Insistence on sex-related play with other children or adults
  • Sores around the mouth
  • Reported soreness around the genitals
  • Bruising or bleeding around the genitals
  • A new tendency toward secretiveness
  • Nightmares
  • Preferring to sleep with their clothes on
  • A strong preference to avoid a certain person or location without an explanation
  • Regressive behaviors or suddenly acting younger than they are

Older children and teens may also demonstrate signs like:

  • Eating disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Sudden emotional changes
  • Sudden aversion to activities they previously enjoyed
  • Sudden changes to how they dress
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty keeping friends
  • Sudden emotional withdrawal
  • Struggling with school
  • Emotional outbursts

Note that one or even several of these symptoms does not guarantee that a child is being sexually abused. However, they are grounds to talk to the child and remind them that you are there to help. They are also good reasons to pay attention to the behavior of other adults in the child’s life.

Protecting Children From Abuse

If you suspect your child is being sexually abused, you must protect them from that harm. The most important step is to remove the abuser’s access to the children they’re hurting. However, you can further support survivors of childhood abuse by seeking compensation for their suffering. Here’s how to get started:

  • Talk to your child about your concerns. The easiest way to determine whether someone is hurting your kid is to talk to them. It may take a few conversations before they trust that you will believe them and feel comfortable telling you, so do not give up after one try.
  • Get them medical care. A careful and informed medical exam can be invaluable for helping children recover after an assault. It allows the child’s healthcare provider to treat any injuries or STIs they may have suffered, and the medical record is invaluable evidence for legal action. 
  • Determine who may be abusing them. If your child can’t tell you who is hurting them, you can investigate yourself. Monitor which activities they try to avoid, and watch for worsening symptoms after being around certain people. While you may not know exactly which person is at fault, you will narrow down the list of potential abusers.
  • Report the abuse. You can file a report with the California Department of Social Services branch for your county to begin an official legal investigation into your child’s abuser. You can also press charges directly if you have strong evidence. 
  • File a civil lawsuit. In addition, you can file a civil claim against the abuser and potentially the organization that employed them if your child was harmed at a daycare, school, religious institution, or other activity.

Seeking Justice for Victims of Childhood Abuse

Finding out that your child is the victim of sexual assault is one of the worst things that can happen to a parent. You can take the first steps toward making it right and getting your child the help they need by scheduling a consultation with skilled sexual assault attorneys. At Fiore Achermann, we understand the emotional upheaval these situations can cause. We will work closely with you and your family to help you seek justice for the horrible abuse your children faced. Learn more about how we can help by scheduling your consultation today.