Signs of Sexual Abuse, Molestation, and Wrongful Touch of Children
Signs of Wrongful Touch
There are thousands of innocent children being violated every day. The majority of them are being wrongfully touched right at home by a family member or a friend of the family. In other words, it doesn't matter how well you think you know your family, it only matters that you know and react to the signs of abuse.
Most people don't know what signs to look for, or they overlook the little clues in front of them. Through my own experiences of being a child that was wrongfully touched by a family member, I hope what I went through will shed a little light on what to look out for. Some of these things might not be anything to worry about, but they might also be warning signs of abuse.
- Crying. A child that cries continuously when you leave them or drop them off with a person, sitter, family member, daycare, or elsewhere. Also pay attention if they start crying when they never used to cry before.
- Sudden negativity. If your usually polite child suddenly displays rudeness or some other unusual reaction to a particular person.
- Monsters. If your child tells you that there's monster in the closet (or somewhere else), you should take this seriously.
- Missing clothing. If you put your child to bed in pajamas but find them with no clothes on in the morning.
- Attachment. If your child suddenly by your side at all times and doesn't want to leave you or suddenly they want to start sleeping in your bed with you.
- Fear. When you ask your child if someone's doing things to them and they get a look of fear in their eyes. They might not answer truthfully, but you might see their fear.
- School performance. A dramatic drop in grades at school or a teacher's notice that indicate your child is not listening or doing their work.
- Pain or irritation. If your child (male or female) complains of pain when using the restroom. If there is redness or pain in their genitals, anus, or mouth.
- Lack of attention. You'll notice your child is not listening or if they have behavioral outbreaks and develop a negative attitude towards things they used to not mind.
- Self-harm. You might notice that your child has started calling himself stupid or has started intentionally punishing herself (cutting, hitting herself in the head, etc.).
- New vocabulary. Your child might suddenly ask you to touch their private area, or they might have new words for their body parts.
- Underwear. If your child is constantly changing their underwear because they feel dirty.
- Blood or infection. If you see any signs of infection or blood in their underwear, take them to the doctor right away.
- Sexualized play. If sexuality suddenly becomes a theme of your child's games with dolls or toys, especially if the dolls suddenly start performing sex acts you didn't know they even knew about.
- Inappropriate touch or sexual behavior. If your child tries to touch children or adults in their private areas, or if sex suddenly becomes a topic.
- Sexual kissing. Tongue or sexual kissing can be a sign.
- Self-penetration. If young children putting fingers or toys in their anus or vagina.
- Sleep issues. If your child develops nightmares or other sleep difficulties.
- Change of appetite. If they stop eating, start to binge-eat, or have difficulty swallowing.
- Mood swings. Sudden bursts of anger, insecurity, or fear might be a sign that something is going on.
- Indirect communication. A child who can't talk about it might leave some kind of clue, hoping to provoke you to start a discussion.
- Sexual imagery. If your child suddenly starts writing, drawing, singing, imagining, or dreaming sexually explicit things.
- Regression. If an older child starts acting younger (sucking their thumb, using baby talk, etc.).
- Fear of nudity. If your child resists removing their clothes for a bath, to change, etc.
- Refusal to bathe. Inadequate personal hygiene might be a sign of a problem.
- Avoidance. If your usually affectionate and loving child suddenly avoids physical contact.
- Bed-wetting or accidents. When your child is suddenly wetting the bed for no apparent reason and they never did that in the past, or if a potty-trained child suddenly starts wetting or soiling their pants.
- Lack of interest. If they start losing interest in things they used to enjoy.
- PTSD symptoms. Many of the signs above are also symptoms of a post-traumatic stress disorder: Agitation, irritability, hostility, hypervigilance, self-destruction, social isolation, flashbacks, fear, anxiety, loss of trust, loss of interest, guilt, insomnia, nightmares, etc.
A Child's Sexual Behavior Isn't Always a Sign of Abuse
You must figure out what behavior is normal, healthy, and age-appropriate and what is inappropriate and alarming.
What If a Child Says They Are Being Abused or Molested?
The first and most important thing to do if your child tells you something inappropriate happened is to always, always take the child seriously, no matter whom they say did it. If they muster up the courage to come to you for help, you simply must respond like a responsible, caring adult.
- Believe them. There may be a tiny chance this is all just a misunderstanding, but that is highly unlikely. Your job is to resolutely take your child's side, protect them, and find answers.
- Don't freak out. Again, you must be the adult here. This is not the time or the place to break down or lose your temper. You can do that later.
- Comfort them. The child needs your love and reassurance now. Make sure they know that it's not their fault, that you are on their side, and that you will do everything in your power to prevent anything like this from happening again.
- Make them safe. Make every change you need to make to remove the child from danger and cut off that adult's access to your child: not tomorrow, not next week, but now. If you need to change where you live, then do it. If you must pull them out of school, do it. If your child was abused by a family member, you must break that family tie to protect your child, at least until you find another solution. This is not the time to delay, keep secrets, or worry what people think. The only thing that matters is your child's safety.
- Get help. Call the police, go to the doctor, file reports, enlist services, find counselors. Get all the help you need to protect your child and help them (and you, and your family) recover.
Many children continue to be friendly or affectionate to the person who is sexually abusing them.
What Kinds of Touch Are Wrongful and Inappropriate?
Child sexual abuse does not have to involve sex, penetration, or nudity. Any time an adult or older person touches or handles a child inappropriately, even if the child doesn't seem to notice or mind, is problematic. Hugging, "playing," rubbing, lap-sitting, and any other physical contact might be considered abusive. Remember, sexual abuse need not involve touch at all—a child can be sexually abused with words only, for example, or with a camera.
According to Crimes Against Children Research Center, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are sexually abused by age 18.
Signs That an Adult Might Be Sexually Abusing Your Child
It’s up to parents, family members, and friends to keep an eye out for the following "grooming" behaviors in the adults who come into contact with a child:
- Overbearing imposition. If the older person refuses to give the child privacy and imposes themselves physically in the child's space. If they demand control over the child.
- Bullying. Picking on or ostracizing a child.
- Playing favorites. Choosing one favorite or "pet" child and treating them better than the others. Flattering, praising, complimenting, being overly attentive to, and rewarding one child.
- Insisting on contact. If the older person goes out of their way to offer to babysit or take the child on overnight trips. If they
- Insisting on physical contact. If the older person insists on physical "affection" (a kiss, a hug, a "playful" wrestle, etc.).
- Demanding time. If an older person arranges for uninterrupted time alone with a child.
- Gifts. If they give a child gifts for no apparent reason.
- Disregard of privacy. If they talk about the child's body, if they interrupt a child who's in the bathroom or dressing, or if they embarrass or lack regard for the child's privacy.
- Preoccupation with anatomy. If the older person shows interest in the child's sexual development and growth. If they fixate upon or repeatedly bring up the subject of the child's appearance or development.
- Secrets. If the older person tries to get the child to keep something secret from the parents.
- Oversharing. An older person who shares inappropriate personal information and mature confidences with a child.
- Playing the "good guy." If they try to convince the child that they are the only one who really cares. If they try to isolate and cut the child off from their family and friends by disrespecting and undercutting those relationships.
Predators Target the Most Vulnerable Children
They look for kids who are unhappy, needy, lonely, and hungry for attention.
Talking to Your Child About Sexual Abuse
These are a few things that I have experienced and have seen happen with children that have been abused.
- If you feel your child is being violated, don't be afraid to ask them, but do it in a safe and private setting.
- Reassure your child that it's okay to tell you, that you won't get upset, and that it's not their fault.
- Also reassure them that if someone threatened violence, to them or anyone else, that they don't have to worry. If that's one thing a violator does— they scare the abused child by saying that if they tell, they'll endanger themselves or a family member.
- If your child says it's a family member, don't doubt them by thinking no, that couldn't be, because I'm sorry to tell you, YES, it can be, and there's a good chance it is true. Some family members take advantage of that proximity. Sibling sexual abuse and sibling incest happens.
- The National Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-422-4453. Professional crisis counselors are there 24/7 to provide assistance in over 170 languages. All calls are confidential.
The National Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-422-4453
Professional crisis counselors are there 24/7 to provide assistance in over 170 languages. All calls are confidential.
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