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Recognizing the Signs of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can have a wide range of serious physical, mental and emotional effects on a victim. Unfortunately, the warning signs and red flags of sexual abuse may be overlooked by parents, teachers and others who are unaware of what they mean. Familiarizing yourself with the signs of sexual abuse can allow you to recognize it and take action to protect the victim from further harm as early as possible.

Sexual Abuse Signs in Infants, Toddlers and Children

Sadly, young children are vulnerable to sexual abuse crimes. Sexual predators may take advantage of children that are within their care. They may groom them early on to set up a sexual abuse opportunity later. A young child who is being sexually abused may display the following signs:

  • Inconsolable crying
  • Physical injuries, especially around the genitals or anus
  • Loss of appetite
  • New fear of a certain person or place
  • Drawings of sexual images 
  • Using new words for private parts
  • Sexual play with other children or pets
  • Sudden changes in mood or personality
  • Reluctance to get undressed or bathe
  • Outbursts, aggression or “acting out”
  • Nightmares or trouble sleeping

In addition, be on the lookout for signs of a sexual predator in your child’s life. This may include an adult or teen who tries to get your child alone, fosters an unusually close relationship with your child or buys your child expensive gifts without explanation.

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Adolescents and Teenagers

Older victims of sexual abuse may exhibit different signs. A teen or adolescent who is suffering from sexual abuse at school or elsewhere may become withdrawn or show changes in their personality and behaviors. Warning signs may include:

  • Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities
  • Changes in hygiene or grooming behaviors
  • Eating disorders
  • Fear of physical touch
  • Low self-esteem or negative self-image
  • Decreased performance in school (or truancy)
  • Running away from home
  • Sexual promiscuity or teen pregnancy 
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Substance use
  • Criminal activity
  • Self-harm behaviors or suicidal tendencies

Feelings of guilt or shame, a fear of intimacy or closeness with others, isolation from friends and family, and chronic depression or anxiety are all warning signs that could point to sexual abuse, sexual hazing, sexual bullying or other sex crimes in a teen’s life.

What to Do if You Notice Signs of Sexual Abuse

The potential signs of sexual abuse, assault and harassment can vary based on the person and circumstances, including the victim’s age. If you have reason to suspect that someone you know is being sexually abused, speak up. 

Start by talking to the individual. Have an open conversation about sexual abuse. Make sure the victim is in a safe place and receives the medical care and emotional support that he or she needs. Then, go to the authorities. Call 911 in an emergency. You can also call your local police non-emergency number to report a sex crime. If the victim is a child, you may need to contact Child Protective Services, as well. 

When you are ready to discuss the possibility of filing a civil lawsuit for a case of sexual abuse, contact our Illinois sexual assault attorneys at Mahoney Law Firm for a free and confidential consultation.