Sexual abuse is more common than you may think. It is estimated that one in 10 children have been sexually abused before age 18. Children are often told by perpetrators that abuse should be kept a secret. Children may feel ashamed and scared following an incident. Therefore, it is important to keep communication open and have honest conversations with children about body safety. Even so, some parents may never know if their child was hurt.
Parents can benefit from knowing the warning signs of sexual abuse. Physical signs of trauma are easier to catch, however, changes in behavior are more subtle warning signs of abuse.
Emotional and behavioral red flags
Children do not always have the right verbal tools to communicate effectively about abuse. They may not fully understand what abuse means, therefore, parents should watch for the following changes in behavior which may indicate abuse:
- Not wishing to be alone with a specific adult or caretaker, especially is this is new behavior
- Resuming behaviors they have grown out of, such as bedwetting and thumb-sucking
- Excessive sexual language or behavior
- Being overly fearful
- Wanting to avoid removal of clothing and bathing
- Nightmares and fear of being alone at night
More often than not, an abuser is an adult a child already knows. Parents should be cautious of the following behaviors in an adult who may be hurting a child:
- Disregards physical boundaries
- Makes inappropriate comments about a child’s sexual development
- Tries to be a child’s friend rather than taking on an adult-role in the child’s life
- Attempts to get excessive alone time with your child or another child you know
What to do if you suspect abuse
Talk to your kids about good touch versus bad touch. Children should not only understand physical boundaries, but also that they can reach out if something bad happens. If you suspect your child has been sexually abused, then keep them away from unsafe adults and situations. Contact authorities to file a report. Perpetrators can be both criminally and civilly penalized. Most importantly, your child and other children can be kept safe once authorities are involved.