Don’t be Clueless. Learn the Possible Signs of Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse

You have concerns. You have suspicions. But, how can you be sure? You want that definitive list. Those definitive signs and behaviors to confirm or disconfirm your worst beliefs about sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, no one can do that for you – not even this article. Sexual abuse isn’t like a disease, with its obvious checklist of symptoms. Kids respond and react differently to child sexual abuse, therefore no one can definitively tell you that your suspicions are right or wrong.

What I can tell you, however, are behaviors that warrant concern. There are some behaviors, which as a child therapist, make me take a closer look.

Any child can be a victim of child sexual abuse. Know what to look for and be informed.

Having said that, I need to make one point abundantly clear. Many children do not show any signs of child sexual abuse. Many of the children I see in my practice never gave any indication of sexual abuse prior to it being discovered.

Here are signs that would make a therapist concerned. Please note – these behaviors aren’t necessarily an indicator of sexual abuse, but are concerning behaviors none the less. If you are concern that your child might be a victim of sexual abuse, please take them to a child therapist to be evaluated as soon as possible. If you know a child that is being sexually abused, you need to report it to law enforcement.

Behaviors that are concerning:

Sexualized Play

If your very young child is having sexualized play with their dolls or toys, this is concerning behavior. It isn’t abnormal for children to have their dolls kissing or laying on top of each other, but it would atypical for a child to be acting out oral sex or other sexualized acts with their toys.

Penetrating Themselves with Objects

This may be hard to talk about, but if young children are taking toys or fingers and sticking them up their anus or vagina, this warrants concern. Children will explore their body parts, but it is less common for children to digitally penetrate themselves with objects or fingers.

Preventing sexual abuse

Inappropriately Touching Others

If your child is trying to touch adults or children in their private areas, this can be a concern. Children are curious and will explore with each other, but if your child is putting their mouth on another child’s private parts or is digitally penetrating other kids – this goes beyond exploration.

Bleeding and Infection from Private Parts

If your child has bleeding, infection or bruising around or in their private area for unknown reasons, this is a concern. Get them to the doctor right away for a full exam.

Playing Secret Sexualized Games

If children are wanting to play secret body games with their friends, this deserves further exploration. Many children will play games that involve private parts as part of normal exploration and development, but If kids have a name for the game and special nicknames for various private parts, this might be more than typical play.

Often pedophiles will incorporate games and special nicknames for private parts to manipulate children. Sexually abused kids will often attempt to play these games with other kids around them.

A Strong Negative Response Around a Particular Person

If your child is normally polite, but they are uncharacteristically rude or frightened by a person they encounter, it would be worth exploring further.

Typically child predators are people you know. People you trust. Learn the signs of child grooming and protect your kids.

It is important to note, that many of the children I have worked with continued to be friendly or affectionate to the person that was sexually abusing them. This was often the reason parents dismissed any of their concerns or gut feelings. Do not discount abuse just because your child does not show signs of anger or fear around a person you have concerns about.

The US Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) lists 12 other behaviors that can be signs of possible sexual abuse.

As a child therapist, I know that many of these behaviors are very general and can be caused by other issues as well, therefore it is important to seek out the guidance of a professional for a full assessment.

  • Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanationSeems distracted or distant at odd times

    Has a sudden change in eating habits

    Refuses to eat

    Loses or drastically increases appetite

    Has trouble swallowing

    Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity, or withdrawal

    Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues

    Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places

    Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child

    Writes, draws, plays, or dreams of sexual or frightening images

    Talks about a new older friend

NSOPW also talks about warning signs, specifically geared towards teens. As with above, these can be an indication of many issues, not just sexual abuse. They include:

  • Self-injury (cutting, burning)Inadequate personal hygiene

    Drug and alcohol abuse

    Sexual promiscuity

    Running away from home

    Depression, anxiety

    Suicide attempts

    Fear of intimacy or closeness

    Compulsive eating or dieting

If you are seeing any of the above warning signs, or if you just have that parental gut feeling – talk to a professional. These signs may not point directly to sexual abuse, but they do indicate there is a problem in general that needs exploring.

Do you know someone who could benefit from knowing these signs? Share this article with them!

For more information on how to detect sexual abuse visit: (very thorough article on this topic)


For more child safety articles, click on the links below:

Our gut instinct is there to protect us - and yet we teach kids things that will make them second guess their gut instinct.     Every parent should teach their children body safety. Here are 10 important areas to cover.

Stranger danger isn't cutting it. Learn these great tips to keep your kids safe!      Child predators are not strangers in dark alleys. They are your friends, your relatives, the coach on your kid's team. The best way to protect your kids is to not be in denial. Learn their tactics and keep your kids safe.

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3 responses to “Don’t be Clueless. Learn the Possible Signs of Sexual Abuse”

  1. […] cannot always prevent our children from being sexually abused, but arming our child with knowledge is a good preventative […]

  2. Kristen E says:

    Thank you for writing this. Unfortunately my daughter was the victim of sexual abuse this year. She had many of the signs you listed here- and acting out sexualized things was what tipped me off. I would also like to address that you ALWAYS should take your child’s word in these matters. She is only 2 1/2 but very verbal and bright and I know my daughter- she told me things she should not have known had she not been assaulted. Err on the side of caution and BELIEVE your child.

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      Hi Kristen,
      I am so sorry to hear about what happened to your daughter. Thank you for sharing your story and highlighting that point. That is so important for other parents to hear.

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