Trigger warning – this post is about child abuse. Please check out my other posts if this in any way will be triggering for you.

Recently, I completed a course on ensuring churches and schools are more safe for children. part of the course reviewed the warning signs of possible sexual abuse in a child’s behaviours.  What follows is the tip sheet from that course shared under the Creative Commons license.

Note that any one sign doesn’t mean that a child was sexually abused, but the presence of several suggests that you begin asking questions and consider seeking help. Keep in mind that some of these signs can emerge at other times of stress such as:
• During a divorce
• Death of a family member or pet
• Problems at school or with friends
• Other anxiety-inducing or traumatic events

Warning Signs in a Child or Adolescent

• Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
• Seems distracted or distant at odd times
• Has a sudden change in eating habits – refusal to eat, loss or increased appetite, trouble swallowing.
• Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
• Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
• Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images
• Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places
• Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
• Talks about a new older friend
• Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason
• Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad
• Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge

Signs more typical of younger children

• An older child behaving like a younger child (such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking)
• Has new words for private body parts
• Resists removing clothes when appropriate times (bath, bed, toileting, diapering)
• Asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games
• Mimics adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animal
• Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

Signs more typical in adolescents

• 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

Physical warning signs

Physical signs of sexual abuse are rare.  If you see these signs, bring your child to a doctor.   Your doctor can help you understand what may be happening and test for sexually transmitted diseases.
• Pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth
• Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements
• Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

What You Can Do If You See Warning Signs

• Create a Safety Plan. Don’t wait for “proof” of child sexual abuse.
• Contact child protective services