The word trauma refers to any event that causes injury. The injury can cause physical or psychological wounds. Physical wounds harm the child’s body and psychological wounds harm the child’s ability to process thought and emotions. When an event or series of events causes such wounds, it is said to be traumatic; the victim is described as being traumatized.

Sexual abuse is a traumatic event in a child’s life. The experience is generally frightening, confusing and overwhelming. The child may feel obligated to comply with the perpetrator out of fear, love, threats, coercion or concern for others. The child often experiences total powerlessness in the situation. The abuser may practice deceit, tricking the child into compliance. They may try to make the child feel like an accomplice or partner in the abuse. If the abuser is also a trusted adult or caregiver then the betrayal, helplessness and confusion are only magnified, and the traumatization deepened.

Sexual abuse can also cause physical wounds. Physical wounds may be internal or external, and they are often the first indicator that abuse is taking place. Physical indicators of sexual abuse include cuts, bruises and welts; the inability to walk, run, stand or sit without pain; blood or other fluids in the child’s underwear; pregnancy; and symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease (STD). If you notice any of these, read the Report section before you bathe the child or wash any clothing.