Child Sexual Abuse: Know the Warning Signs
by Amy Scholten, MPH
You may be a parent, teacher, or someone else who cares for and loves children. You want to keep children safe in every way. That includes protecting them from sexual abuse. The first step is to educate yourself and your children about it.
What Is Child Sexual Abuse?
Child sexual abuse is when an adult behaves in a sexual way with a child or adolescent. It may also involve an adolescent engaging in sexual activity with a younger child.
There are different forms of sexual abuse. A child may not know what is happening. The child only feels uncomfortable. Child sexual abuse may include:
The child often knows the person who sexually abuses them. It is often someone the child trusts or loves. It could be a parent, neighbor, or relative.
Signs and Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse
Children often do not tell others about sexual abuse. They feel scared, ashamed, and confused. Their abusers often tell them that it must be kept a secret. Be alert for possible warning signs, such as:
When You Suspect Sexual Abuse
How to Help Prevent Sexual Abuse
To help prevent child sexual abuse:
American Psychological Association
Prevent Child Abuse America
Canadian Centre for Child Protection
Canadian Child Abuse Association
Child abuse. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at:
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Accessed June 30, 2021.
Child abuse—sexual. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/child-abuse-sexual. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Child sexual abuse. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Child-Sexual-Abuse-009.aspx. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Defining child sexual abuse. Stop It Now! website. Available at: https://www.stopitnow.org/ohc-content/defining-child-sexual-abuse. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Responding to child sexual abuse. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Responding_To-Child-Sexual-Abuse-028.aspx. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Sexual abuse. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/Pages/Sexual-Abuse.aspx. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Tip sheet: Warning signs of possible sexual abuse in a child's behavior. Stop It Now! website. Available at: https://www.stopitnow.org/ohc-content/warning-signs-possible-abuse. Accessed June 30, 2021.
Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 6/30/2021
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