Warning Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

2 Warning signs of child sexual abuse healthyplace

Child sexual abuse is a terrifying idea to contemplate for any parent, but not knowing the child sexual abuse signs can be a big mistake. Missing symptoms of child sexual abuse can mean allowing a child who needs help to go without it and possibly even allowing an abusive relationship to continue.

It is a myth that children report sexual abuse directly after it occurs. More often, people ignore, repress and deny child sexual abuse, often until adulthood. It is only through subtle signs of child sexual abuse that many cases of sexual abuse are even uncovered.

Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse

Symptoms of child sexual abuse vary depending on the age of the child, the type of abuse and on the child himself (or herself). Different people will react differently to abuse. It's also important to realize that even if seen, the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse may be related to another circumstance altogether and so one should never jump to the conclusion that sexual abuse is occurring.

Symptoms of child sexual abuse are similar to those of other emotional problems such as depression, severe anxiety or nervousness. Symptoms of child sexual abuse include:1

  • Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia
  • Vague complaints of stomach pain or headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Bowel disorders, such as soiling oneself (encopresis)
  • Genital or rectal symptoms, such as pain during a bowel movement or urination, or vaginal itch or discharge

Child Sexual Abuse Signs

In addition to the physical symptoms of sexual abuse, there are additional child sexual abuse signs. The specific signs are often related to the age of the child with younger children being less able to process and express sexual abuse.

Particularly in children age 12 and younger, the following are signs of child sexual abuse:2

  • Lack of self-esteem/self-destructiveness – the child may make statements that they are worthless, harm themselves or even exhibit suicidal ideation
  • Advanced sexual knowledge – the child may possess knowledge beyond his level of development, specifically detailed sexual information.
  • Being depressed, withdrawn or excessively fearful
  • Drop in school performance
  • Sexualized behavior – such as dressing seductively or acting sexually through dolls, around peers or adults. The child may also masturbate excessively.
  • Distress around a particular person – the child may not want to spend time with a particular adult
  • Seeking excessive time with an adult – he may also be given extra attention, gifts, privileges, etc.
  • Aggressiveness
  • High-risk behaviors or drug use

A child may also show signs of sexual abuse in play or through art. Older children may drop hints of sexual abuse before actual disclosure to "test the waters" and see how adults will react to the news. In this case, it's important not to lead the child's disclosure and to be as open, caring and non-judgmental as possible.

More information on Sexual Abuse Help: Where to Find It

article references

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2021, December 17). Warning Signs of Child Sexual Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Last Updated: December 30, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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