Signs of Sexual Abuse

Discovering that sexual abuse has taken or is taking place is something no one wants to experience, but at the same time parents and others must keep their eyes open and stay informed on potential signs of abuse in the children around them. There are numerous signs that one can look for, and although the presence of one or more signs does not necessarily mean that abuse is taking place, when taken together they may indicate a need for closer investigation.


Incest is defined as sexual relations between those with close kinship ties (a parent and child, two siblings, or two close relatives. Signs of incest can include the social or geographic isolation of a family where incest is taking place, role-reversal among parents and children (for example, a daughter mimicking or reversing roles with her mother), a parent who appears to “play favorites” – i.e., lavishing gifts or attention on one child while ignoring the others. A child who seems to have been forced into a parental role may also be the victim of incest. Obviously, these behavioral family abnormalities may have other causes, but all can indicate an unhealthy relationship between two near relatives.

Physical Signs of Sexual Abuse

Generally, the trauma of sexual abuse is characterized by certain signs. Some physical indications, such as acquiring sexually transmitted diseases or having unexplained pregnancies, are impossible to ignore. Additional physical indications of possible sexual abuse include bleeding or bruising in the rectal, thigh or genital areas, abdominal pain or stomach pain, bed wetting or incontinence, or recurrent UTIs. Discharge from the vagina or penis, including foul odors, can also signal that sexual abuse is taking place. Persistent sore throats, exhaustion, and sleep difficulties can be warning signs as well. Radical changes in the victim’s appearance, including rapid weight gain or loss, may indicate the need for further investigation, and drug or alcohol abuse may also be the result of sexual abuse. The possession of gifts or money which can’t be explained, and spending time with older “role models” can indicate cause for concern. These physical signs are subjective and can have many causes, but all signal the need for discussion and, in some cases, medical intervention in order to comprehensively determine whether sexual abuse has taken place.

Changes in Behavior Resulting from Sexual Abuse

When on the lookout for behavioral indicators of sexual abuse, the following issues should be taken seriously. Teens who inappropriately display their sexuality through their behavior, dress, or attitude may have experienced precocious sexual situations such as sexual abuse. Teens may drop hints about their abuse or sexual behavior, try to recruit others to spend time with them when in the company of adults or authority figures, sometimes including their abuser, or engage in self-harming behavior such as self-mutilation (cutting), substance abuse, acting out against others (including animals) and suffering from mood swings and depression. Again, these signs and others should be fully investigated to determine conclusively whether sexual abuse is ongoing.

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