Spotting the signs of Child Sexual Abuse

Spotting the signs of Child Sexual Abuse

In the United Kingdom, 1 out of every 20 children has been sexually abused.

In the United States, 1 in every 5 girls and 1 in every 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.

In South Africa, a child is raped every 3 minutes.

Shocking facts to consider, but the reality for far too many children is that sexual abuse is a part of their daily existence. In a world of increasing inequality and advancing communication technology, parents and those working with children need to be more vigilant than ever in spotting the signs of child sexual abuse.

Although not an exhaustive list, here are some of the main signs of child sexual abuse to look out for:

  • Avoidant behaviours
  • Fear of being left alone with certain people
  • Sexual behaviours that are not age-appropriate
  • Sexual activity from a young age
  • Physical symptoms linked to sexual abuse: such as anal or vaginal soreness or an unusual discharge
  • Contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Acting withdrawn and disinterested in usual hobbies
  • Having anxious feelings
  • Changes in behaviour and mood
  • Experiencing depression and low mood
  • Aggressive and risk-taking behaviours
  • Insomnia
  • Eating disorders
  • Soiling and secondary enuresis
  • Poor engagement with education and going missing from school
  • Using drugs and alcohol
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Access to gifts and money
  • Going missing and/or regularly staying out late

While research suggests that children experiencing long-term neglect are more likely to be sexually abused, children from all socioeconomic backgrounds are abused. This means that everyone working with children must be vigilant.

Another common misconception to be aware of is placing too much focus on the risk of ‘stranger danger’ in the sexual abuse of research. With 80% of sexual abuse being perpetrated by people personally known to children, it is important to remain wary of anybody who could pose a risk.

If you are worried that a child is at risk or is being sexually abused, you need to contact your local children’s social care team. If you live in the United Kingdom, you can find their details here:

Report child abuse to your local council


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