Most people are unsure of what to look for when considering signs a child may be a victim of sexual abuse. To complicate matters, children often do not display signs of having been sexually abused for months or even years after the abuse has occurred. Many parents and caregivers look back and recognize signs of sexual abuse they did not notice before. That’s understandable since most caregivers are not expecting someone to abuse their child, and are not educated about what to look for in the first place. Remember, sexual abusers are very good at manipulating and hiding their behavior. Ultimately, blame for sexual abuse is always the perpetrator’s, never the caregiver’s and never the child’s.

For quick reference, a Don’t Miss the Signs flyer about the most common signs and symptoms of sexual abuse is available in English and Spanish.

Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Sexual Abuse

  • Nightmares, night terrors, bed-wetting
  • Excessive masturbation
  • Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behavior
  • Frequent sexual play or acting out with siblings, friends, pets or toys
  • Sudden onset of aggressive behavior
  • Large weight changes
  • Becomes overly protective of siblings
  • Withdrawal and/or disinterest in normally enjoyed activities
  • Poor concentration (may affect school performance)
  • Regressive behaviors (acting younger than one’s age)
  • Anxiety, guilt, depression
  • Sudden reluctance to be alone with a certain person
  • Sudden fear of certain place or person
  • Unexplained/frequent health complaints (stomachache, headache, “don’t feel well”)
  • Uncomfortable or resisting physical contact

Older Children/Teens

  • Self-harming (cutting, refusing to eat, suicide attempts)
  • Running away
  • Disruptive in school; skipping classes or playing hooky
  • Sexual promiscuity, especially with older teens or adults
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Unexplained gifts, clothes and/or money

Physical Signs

  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Sexually transmitted disease (especially for children under 14)
  • Pregnancy (especially for children under 14) with refusal to name the father
  • Frequent yeast or urinary infections
  • Bruised or bleeding genital area
  • Pain, itching or burning of genital area