Signs of sexual abuse in children
Natural and/or Expected Sexuality Behaviors in Kindergarten through Fourth Grade Children
- Asks about the genitals, breasts, intercourse, babies
- Interested in watching/peeking at people doing bathroom functions
- Uses “dirty” words for bathroom functions, genitals, and sex
- Plays doctor, inspecting others’ bodies
- Boys and girls are interested in having/birthing a baby
- Shows others his/her genitals
- Interest in urination/defecation
- Touches/rubs own genitals when going to sleep, when tense, excited, or afraid
- Plays house, may simulate roles of mommy and daddy
- Thinks other gender children are “gross” or have “cooties”
- Talks about sex with friends
- Talks about having a girl/boy friend
- Wants privacy when in bathroom or changing clothes
- Likes to hear and tell “dirty” jokes
- Looks at nude pictures
- Plays games with same-aged children related to sex and sexuality
- Draws genitals on human figures
- Explores differences between males and females, girls and boys
- Takes advantage of opportunity to look at nude child or adult
- Pretends to be opposite gender
- Wants to compare genitals with peer-aged friends
- Wants to touch genitals, breasts, buttocks of other same-age child or have child touch him/her
- Kisses familiar adults and children; allows kisses by familiar adults and children
- Looks at the genitals, buttocks, breasts of adults
- Puts something in own genitals/rectum die to curiosity and exploration
- Interest in breeding behavior of animals
Possible Symptoms of Sexual Abuse
There are no symptoms exclusive to sexual abuse. However, if a child reflects any of the following symptoms, sexual abuse should be suspected:
- Failure in school
- Sleep and/or eating problems
- Changes in personality: irritability, anxiety, depression
- Any sexually transmitted disease or vaginal/urinary infection
- Regressive behaviors (sucking thumb, earlier developmental stages, etc.)
- Evidence of physical trauma to the genital areas such as bruising or tears in skin
- Complaints of pain around the genital areas
- Appearance of unexplainable money or gifts
- Unusually seductive behaviors with classmates, teachers, or other adults
- Extreme fear of being alone with certain people
- Fear or reluctance to go home after school
- Unusual knowledge and/or interest in sexual acts and terminology
- Unusual or bizarre sexual themes in child’s art, work, play or stories
Handling Acting-Out Behaviors
The child may not realize that these behaviors are wrong, so try to remain calm when handling these situations without shaming the child or acting horrified.
1. Interrupt the behavior
2. Tell the child(ren) it’s not appropriate
3. If the child is young, redirect his/her attention elsewhere
4. Provide close supervision during play times
5. Set rules and boundaries for privacy, dressing, restroom use, etc.
6. Talk to the child later, in a calm moment about the behavior and where they learned it.
7. Consider referrals for counseling for both children
8. Realize that it may take time and consistency to change behaviors and learning
Some symptoms listed above may indicate that a child is being “groomed” by a sex offender. Grooming is the process by which an offender draws a victim into sexual abuse in secrecy. By maintaining this secrecy, an essential feature of grooming, the sex offender works to separate the victim from peers and siblings. The offender typically does this by convincing the victim that he/she is special and by giving love and attention. This process varies case-by-case according to time (months or even years) and method (in person or online).
While these are described as separate stages, the stages may overlap or be co-occurring.
Stage 1: Targeting the victim
The offender targets an individual who is vulnerable and may have one of the following characteristics:
- Craves attention
- Picked on by others
- Low self-esteem
- Eager to please
- Has a single parent
- Is often unsupervised
Stage 2: Gaining the victim’s trust
This is accomplished by watching and gathering information about the victim, getting to know their needs, and recognizing how to fill them. This may be done by befriending the individual as well as family and others around the victim.
Stage 3: Filling the need
The offender gives gifts, extra attention, time, and affection to fill the individual’s needs in order to take on a greater role of importance in the victim’s life.
Stage 4: Isolating the Victim
The offender will create situations so they can be alone with the victim. This one-on-one time further reinforces a special connection. During these situations, the two may engage in behaviors that are against the rules or law, such as going against a family rule (like no candy before dinner).
Stage 5: Sexualizing the relationship
Desensitizing the victim to touch and boundary crossing is done through the following activities:
- Tickling games
- Having him/her sit on the offender’s lap or snuggle up next to them
- Carrying the individual
- “Accidentally” brushing against the victim’s private areas to test reactions
- Testing their willingness to keep a “secret”
Stage 6: Maintaining control
Once the sex abuse is happening, offenders use secrecy and blame to maintain the victim’s continued participation and silence. The offender may use threats or bribes to keep their victim silent.
Contact the Crime Victim Center of Erie County 814-455-9414.