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Behavioral Changes That May Indicate Someone Is Being Sexually Abused

Sexual abuse is a prevalent problem. Statistics show that around 500,000 children and adults are sexually abused or assaulted each year in the U.S. Being subjected to sexual abuse can have a wide range of effects on how a victim acts and behaves. If you know what to look for, these warning signs can point to the need to intervene.

Each Case Is Unique

It is important to note that behavioral indicators of sexual abuse can change significantly based on the age of the victim as well as the severity or nature of the incident. No two sexual abuse survivors are exactly alike. This is a highly personal crime that can have varied effects from person to person. Someone who is being sexually abused may exhibit one, multiple or none of the “typical” behavioral signs.

Unusual Knowledge of Sexual Subjects

In children, new knowledge of sexual activities or subjects – especially knowledge that is inappropriate for the child’s age – could point to possible sex crime victimization. For example, if a child suddenly has new words for private parts, excessively plays with his or her own body parts, draws sexual scenarios, or mimics sexual acts with toys, pets or other children, this can be a red flag for sexual abuse. Keep in mind, if you are in need of legal help after sexual abuse, contact our sexual assault lawyers in Illinois today.

Signs of Mental Health Struggles

Victims of sexual abuse of all ages can suffer adverse mental, emotional and psychological effects due to the trauma they suffered. New mental health conditions or struggles could be a sign of sexual assault or violence. 

Examples include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety or panic disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Withdrawal or isolation from others
  • Loss of interest in favorite hobbies or activities
  • Low self-esteem or self-confidence
  • Inconsolable crying (in infants)
  • Progression to behaviors of a younger age, such as thumbsucking
  • Self-harm behaviors, such as cutting
  • Suicidal thoughts, tendencies or actions

While these issues could arise from many different issues or sources of trauma, they can also be signs of sexual abuse – especially if found in conjunction with other behavioral indicators.

Outbursts or Rebellious Behaviors

Children, adolescents and teenagers may express their emotional trauma from a sexual abuse incident in the form of “acting out,” or attention-seeking behaviors. This may include:

  • Outbursts
  • Aggression or irritability
  • Starting fights
  • Bullying others 
  • Decreased performance in school
  • Skipping school
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Criminal activities

These behaviors could be a sexual abuse victim’s way of crying out for help. Do not dismiss them as just “normal” teenage or young adult behaviors without having a conversation with the individual about sexual abuse.

What to Do if You Think Someone Is Being Sexually Abused

If you are a mandated reporter in Illinois, such as a teacher, health care provider or another person in a position of trust with a child, you are required by law to report any suspicions you have of child sexual abuse. You can file a report with the police, the Department of Children & Family Services, and other sources of assistance.

Keep in mind that the presence of one behavioral change does not necessarily confirm sexual abuse. However, it does warrant further investigation. Multiple behavioral signifiers of child sexual abuse, on the other hand, should be reported immediately. For personalized information about your legal rights as a victim or the parent of a victim of sexual abuse in Illinois, contact Mahoney Law Firm for a free, confidential case review.