According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), government authorities in the U.S. respond to a report of child sexual abuse every nine minutes. These heinous crimes are rampant, and often have a severe impact on a child’s life and development that can continue to impact the survivor for years.
Knowing the behavioral warning signs of child sexual abuse is critical to removing the child from danger. The symptoms may be physical, emotional or both, but physical indications are much less common. While any one behavior doesn’t necessarily mean a child was abused, several could suggest they need help. Recognizing how to spot potential sexual abuse is the first step towards stopping it.
Emotional signs of abuse
Signs of child sexual abuse aren’t always obvious, mainly because abusers take careful steps to hide their actions. If you suspect something is wrong, you should trust your instincts. Even if it makes you uncomfortable, it’s essential that you talk to your child if someone makes you uneasy.
Frequent emotional or behavioral changes that may indicate abuse include:
- Excessive worry or fearfulness
- Anxiety and depression
- Sleep disturbances, nightmares or fear of being alone at night
- Regression to previously outgrown behaviors, such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting.
- Changes to eating habits
- Excessive talk or knowledge of sexual topics
- Not wanting to be alone with certain people or away from their primary caregiver
- Sexual behavior inappropriate for their age
When to take action
It isn’t always easy to identify when a child may be in danger – some children may not display any signs of abuse. However, if something feels off or your child tells you someone makes them uncomfortable, you should take it seriously. If you have influence over the child’s life, avoid putting them in potentially harmful situations. Speaking with a staff member at your local RAINN center can help determine if you should report the abuse to authorities.