Indicators of Child Sexual Abuse

There have been studies performed to document behaviours that are linked to childhood sexual abuse. These behaviours are collectively called indicators of sexual abuse. Below is a list of possible behaviour a child may exhibit if he or she has been abused. 

The likelihood is that as a concerned parent, guardian, teacher or mentor you will not be present when the abuse takes place. These indicators outline vital clues for all concern adults to be aware of.

Sexual Behaviour
• Over attention to adults of a particular sex.
• Displaying unusual interest in the genitals of others.
• Acting out adult sexual behaviour with adults, dolls or other children.
• Open displays of sexuality, for example, repeated public masturbation.
• Precocious knowledge of sexual matters.
• Promiscuity, repetitious sexually precocious behaviour.

Behavioural Indicators
• Displaying low self esteem.
• Tending to be withdrawn, passive, tearful.
• Displaying aggressive or demanding behaviour.
• Being highly anxious.
• Showing delayed speech.
• Acting like a much younger child, for example, soiling or wetting pants.
• Displaying difficulties in relating to adults and peers.
• Stealing food.
• Staying at school outside school hours.
• Often being tired, falling asleep in class.
• Abusing alcohol or drugs.
• Displaying aggressive behaviour.
• Not getting on well with peers.
• Poor peer relationships, family and/or child appear socially isolated.
• Reluctance to undress, for example, for school sporting functions.
• Excessive bathing.
• Inappropriate displays of affection between child and parent (usually father) that appear lover-like rather than parent-like (father may be excessively overprotective towards daughter, restrict her social activities or inquisitive of her sexuality)

• Sudden changes in mood or behaviour.
• Difficulty sleeping, nightmares.
• Regressed behaviour, bed wetting, separation anxiety, insecurity.
• Change in eating patterns including preoccupation with food.
• Lack of trust in familiar adults, fear of strangers, fear of men.
• Lack of appropriate role boundaries in family, child fulfils parental role.
• Acting out behaviour, aggression, lying, stealing, unexplained running away, drug or alcohol abuse, suicide attempts.
• Withdrawn behaviour.
• Passivity.
• Excessive compliance.
• Mood swings.
• Depression.
• Learning problems at school, loss of concentration, unexplained drop in school

Useful Websites

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Books That Can Help

Freeman, L. (1987). It's MY body: A book to teach young children how to resist uncomfortable touch. Seattle, WA: Parenting Press. Ages 3-8; also available in Spanish.

Lowery, L. (1995). Laurie tells. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books, Lerner Publishing Group. Age 11 and up.

Ottenweller, J. (1991). Please tell! A child's story about sexual abuse. Center City, MN: Hazelden Foundation.

Stauffer, L., & Deblinger, E. (2003). Let's talk about taking care of you: An educational book about body safety. Hatfield, PA: Hope for Families. Version for preschool children also available.

Adams, C., & Fay, J. (1992). Helping your child recover from sexual abuse. Vancouver, WA: University of Washington Press.

Brohl, K., & Potter, J.C. (2004). When your child has been molested: A parents' guide to healing and recovery. (Revised ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint.

Daugherty, L. (2006) Why me? Help for victims of child sexual abuse (even if they are adults now). (4th ed.). Roswell, NM: Cleanan Press, Inc.

(as adapted from Adedayo Emmanuel)