Possible Signs of Child Sexual Abuse
Because most children cannot or do not tell about being sexually abused, it is up to concerned adults to recognize signs of abuse. Physical evidence of abuse is rare. Unfortunately, there is no one behavior alone that definitely determines a child has been sexually abused. Also, none of these behaviors alone indicates sexual abuse. A combination of these over a period of time may more strongly indicate sexual abuse:
• physical complaints; headaches
• fear or dislike of certain people or places
• extreme changes in behavior
• depression and withdrawal
• frequent nightmares; other sleep disturbances
• regression to infantile behaviors such as bed-wetting and thumb-sucking
• age-inappropriate interest in sexual matters
• frequent genital infections
• excessive masturbation
• self-mutilation such as burning or cutting
*How You Can Help a Child
• Keep calm. It is important to remember that you are not angry with the child, but with what happened. Children can mistake anger or disgust as directed towards them. This anger may cause them to withdraw.
• Believe the child. In almost every case, children do not lie about sexual abuse. You may be the only one the child thinks can give help.
• Listen to the child. Take the child to a private place, where others can still see you and let the child tell you what happened in his or her own words. Give the child your full attention.
• Give positive messages, such as “I know it’s not your fault,” or “I’m glad you told.”
• Reassure the child. Explain that he or she was not to blame for what happened.
• Respect the child’s privacy. Be careful not to discuss the abuse in front of people who do not need to know what happened.
• Be responsible. Seek medical attention for the child by someone who is trained to identify and treat child sexual assaults. Even if the child appears unhurt, there may be injuries and trauma not immediately visible.
• Report the incident immediately. Notify the police, or 1-800-252-5400 TX
• Know how to get help. Your local sexual violence crisis center can provide many free and confidential services for child victims. Call 1.800.656.HOPE
*Be Sure You Do Not…
• Panic or overreact when the child talks about the experience. Children need help and support through this difficult time.
• Pressure the child to talk or avoid talking about the abuse. Allow the child to talk at his or her own pace. Forcing information can be harmful, and you are not trained to interview a child victim. But silencing the child will not help him or her to forget, either.
• Confront the offender in the child’s presence. The stress may be harmful. Confronting the offender at all is never a good idea. Leave this to the proper authorities.
• Blame the child. Remember, sexual abuse is never the child’s fault!