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Telltale Signs Your Child May Have Been Sexually Abused

The statistics are grim. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused by the time they’re 18. In the U.S.A. alone, 400,000 children fall victim to sexual abuse and just 12% of cases get reported. Childhood sexual abuse can have severe lifetime consequences for the survivor, like having to live with crippling depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, PTSD, or engaging in self-destructive behaviors to “numb” the pain.

Unfortunately, at some point, some of the victims may decide suicide is the easiest way out; and all of these could have been prevented if one brave adult would have stepped in when the time was right.

Why Children Don’t Tell

If you suspect your child may have been sexually abused, don’t expect them to come to you and tell you everything about it. Even under extreme abuse children are overcome with guilt and may believe that the abuse is all their fault. They are also afraid that their loved ones may not believe them or get angry at them, especially if the perpetrator is a close family member.

Guilt and shame are two emotions childhood sexual abuse victims must cope with, but children’s developing minds are not equipped with the right tools to face the reality of the abuse or the abuser. They often feel like they did something wrong that triggered the abuser, or they feel responsible for the abuser, as though they don’t want to cause him or her trouble.

According to recent statistics, just 30% of incest victims talk about the abuse, and they make the disclosure mainly to other children or teens. Children don’t speak up because they see no adult as a safe haven to go to. If the parent or caregiver is never listening to them or constantly undermining them when they try to express themselves, they’ll shut off to adults.

But some children do tell, so it is important to listen to them carefully even if their story may not depict what happened very accurately. In addition, don’t dismiss their stories as a product of their wild imagination, or just because the abuser told you so. Some children will tell you but not directly. They will give you hints like telling you that they feel uncomfortable around the abuser (without giving you a reason why even when you insist on it).

Another reason children don’t disclose the abuse is that they are either afraid of the molester or feel like adults won’t do anything about it. And their gut feeling is often right. About 52% of children who did speak out were still being sexually abused a year later. What’s more, their situation got worse as the perpetrator retaliated.

The Signs

If you suspect that your child has been sexually abused, pay close attention to the warning signs. Some signs are subtle while others can be in your face. The most important thing is to listen to your gut feeling. If you feel like something is off, it probably is.

Some of the most common red flags include:

  • Signs of trauma to the genitals (look for bruises or for blood stains on their clothing and sheets)
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • The child suddenly starts to have recurring nightmares
  • The child refuses to eat or eats compulsively all of a sudden
  • He or she withdraws emotionally or suddenly likes to spend excess time alone
  • Bedwetting, soiling, thumb sucking, and other behaviors you though they’ve grown out of making a comeback
  • Mood swings
  • The child knows more than he or she should about sexual topics at their age.
  • Asks other children to play sexual games
  • Increased aggression or anxiety
  • Loss of motivation at school
  • Sudden loss of interest in hobbies or family and friends
  • Self-harming behavior, like self-injury
  • Strange behavior around the abuser
  • Unexplained health issues such as headaches and stomach pain
  • Over compliance
  • Fear of being left alone, especially if they didn’t have this problem
  • Inadequate personal hygiene (all of a sudden)
  • Resist removing clothes at bath time or being seen naked (if this wasn’t an issue before)
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Running away from home
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or suicidal attempts

What Are My Legal Options?

If you now know that your child was sexually abused don’t let the perpetrator get away with it just because you are angry or ashamed. He or she might try to abuse other children too if he or she is not already doing it (70% of child sex offenders have up to 9 victims). When seeking justice for your child you have two main options: file criminal charges against the perpetrator and pursue civil action.

After reporting the abuse, you can file a civil lawsuit against the abuser to get compensation for the psychological turmoil and medical expenses the treatment of your child requires. You could also sue certain third parties for hiring the molester and/or failing to protect your child - such as schools, daycares, and youth centers. Consult with a child abuse attorney as soon as you find about the abuse. A lawyer specialized in such cases is the most qualified person to tell you what to do next from a legal standpoint.

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