Recognizing Sexual Abuse

Monday, October 24th, 2016

As someone who works with children and youth, you probably know the basic definition of sexual abuse. According to, sexual abuse occurs when an adult (or older/more powerful child) uses a child for sexual purposes or involves a child in sexual acts.

In addition to the physical aspect, sexual abuse can also involve non-contact abuse such as inappropriate sexual talk or making a child view a sex act or view sex organs.

But do you know enough to recognize the signs of sexual abuse in a child? Here are some physical and behavioral things to look out for that may indicate a child or youth is in trouble:


  • Difficulty sitting, walking, bowel problems
  • Torn, stained, bloody undergarments
  • Bleeding, bruises, pain, swelling, itching of genital area
  • Frequent urinary tract infections or yeast infections
  • Any sexually transmitted disease or related symptoms


  • Doesn’t want to change clothes (e.g., for P.E.)
  • Withdrawn, depressed, anxious
  • Eating disorders, preoccupation with body
  • Aggression, delinquency, poor peer relationships
  • Poor self-image, poor self-care, lack of confidence
  • Sudden absenteeism, decline in school performance
  • Substance abuse, running away, recklessness, suicide attempts
  • Sleep disturbance, fear of bedtime, nightmares, bed wetting (at advanced age)
  • Sexual acting out
  • Unusual or repetitive soothing behaviors (hand-washing, pacing, rocking, etc.)
  • Sexual behavior or knowledge that is advanced or unusual
  • Reports sexual abuse

Bottom line: If you see something, say something!