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Child Sexual Abuse: Know the Warning Signs

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:

Physical Signs

Emotional Signs

Behavioral Signs

When You Suspect Sexual Abuse

  1. Stay calm. If you show anger or disgust, the child might think it is their fault. Do not panic or overreact. The child needs help and support.
  2. Take what the child says seriously.
  3. Listen carefully to the child. Answer questions honestly. Be kind and gentle.
  4. Be positive. Child abuse is never the child’s fault. Reassure the child that they are not to blame. Tell the child that you are proud of them for telling you. Give lots of love, comfort, and reassurance.
  5. Respect the child’s privacy. Do not force the child to talk about the abuse. The child will talk about it at their own pace. Do not discuss the abuse in front of people who do not need to know about it.
  6. Report the abuse to the local authorities right away. They can help keep the child safe. They can get help and resources.
  7. Take the child for a medical exam. The child might have an injury, damage, or disease due to the abuse. An exam may also provide evidence.
  8. Get help from a variety of sources : the child’s doctor, a counselor, police officer, a child protective service worker, or a teacher.
  9. Let the child talk about the abuse. They need your support. They do not need to feel ashamed.
  10. Do not confront the offender. Keep the child away from the suspected abuser. Tell the authorities and let them handle the legal matters.

How to Help Prevent Sexual Abuse

To help prevent child sexual abuse:

RESOURCES:

American Psychological Association
http://www.apa.org

Prevent Child Abuse America
https://preventchildabuse.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Centre for Child Protection
https://www.protectchildren.ca/en

Canadian Child Abuse Association
https://ccaa.org

SOURCES:

Child abuse. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/child-abuse.html. 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