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Sexual Abuse Signs & Symptoms: How to Know If a Child is at Risk

July 7, 2022  ·  By HM&M

The sexual abuse of children is a disturbing occurrence that happens all too often, both inside and outside the home. The child, who becomes a victim, may carry the weight of the abuse for years. Furthermore, the effects of the abuse can rip through a family like a devastating storm.

While 34% of child sexual abuse cases are committed by family members, nearly 59% of cases involve an acquaintance. Organizations that hold power, especially in the eyes of a child, can be some of the most dangerous places for children. Churches, medical institutions, and athletic groups can foster inappropriate environments which can lead to sexual abuse. 

Read on to learn the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse so you can protect your loved ones. 

Sexual Abuse Signs & Symptoms in Children

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports that every nine minutes, government authorities respond to another report of child sexual abuse. To help protect the children in your life, learn the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse.

There are two categories of sexual abuse signs according to RAINN— behavioral and emotional. Behavioral issues and signs include:

  • Excessive talk about or knowledge of sexual topics
  • Keeping secrets
  • Not talking as much or as usual
  • Not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior
  • Regressive behaviors or resuming behaviors they had grown out of, such as thumbsucking or bedwetting
  • Overly compliant behavior
  • Sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age
  • Spending an unusual amount of time alone
  • Trying to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe

Behavioral issues may be paired with emotional issues or they may occur on their own. Emotional signs of sexual abuse include: 

  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in mood or personality, such as increased aggression
  • Decrease in confidence or self-image
  • Excessive worry or fearfulness
  • Increase in unexplained health problems such as stomach aches and headaches
  • Loss or decrease in interest in school, activities, and friends
  • Nightmares or fear of being alone at night
  • Self-harming behaviors

If your child has displayed any of the above behaviors, engage in a thoughtful conversation with them to determine if help is needed. If necessary, involve a licensed psychologist to help guide the conversation.

Should your child confide in you or another trusted adult, sharing stories of their abuse, know that your child is entitled to seek justice against the abuse. However, each state has its own set of laws as it pertains to the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse. Familiarize yourself with your state’s laws as you begin your journey to justice.

Resources for Families 

The trauma of sexual abuse is resounding. It can be hard to see through the circumstance at hand and begin on the path of healing. While resources are available online for children and their families through a variety of government agencies and non-profit organizations, our team has developed a comprehensive list of resources both nationally and locally. 

Below is an excerpt from our list of national resources, which can help a child and family during the coping process:

What to Do If Your Child is a Victim of Sexual Abuse

The surprising truth about sexual abuse statistics is enraging. If your child is a victim, you may find it helpful to discuss your options with a trusted attorney

The attorneys at Hurley McKenna & Mertz understand the emotional toll that abuse can take on both the victims and the families. Because of this, we will work as your caring partner in seeking justice. You can learn more about our team and our processes here.

If you want to explore your options, you can reach out to us for a free consultation.


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