Recognise Signs of Abuse
How to tell if your child is being sexually abused.
There is no easy way to tell if children are being sexually abused. It’s true that abused children usually show marked changes in their emotional state and then in their behaviour, but there are other factors that can also cause these changes.
One thing that is very important is to encourage communication: always be available to talk and listen to your children. Make sure they understand that they can talk to you about anything at all, and that they should come to you if anything is worrying them.
If you are worried, look out for changes to the way they seem and behave both in themselves and towards others.
You might suspect abuse if children:
- Behave in a sexually explicit way
- Use sexual language which is inappropriate for their ages
- Hint at or raise the subject of sexual abuse, possibly to see your reaction
- Seem down, withdrawn or unusually uncommunicative for no obvious reason
- Become uncharacteristically clingy
- Behave very aggressively
- Start to wet the bed frequently
- Have unusually disturbed sleep
- Are upset about school or refuse to go
- Suddenly start performing unusually poorly at school
The way children are in relation to others may also provide signs. For example, if they are:
- Trying to avoid being left alone with a particular family member
- Generally avoiding particular adults
- Afraid of an adult (or of an older child)
- Suddenly not going to activities or clubs they previously enjoyed
- Becoming secretive about a relationship with an adult (or older child)
A sudden change to children’s relationship with an adult might raise cause for concern. For example, if child
- Has received toys or gifts from an adult you wouldn’t normally expect that of
- Is invited by an adult to get involved in activities where the child will be alone with the adult
- Mentions that an adult has asked them to keep a secret
Physical signs might include:
- Having physical symptoms which have no obvious cause (such as soreness or redness around the genitals)
- Self harming
Remember that a range of other things can cause children to behave like this, so don’t be alarmed. If you are genuinely worried, talk to your child without accusing them of anything, and encourage them to talk to you.
The NSPCC has more information on spotting signs of abuse,
Some children don’t reveal they are being abused because the abuser will have made a big effort to persuade them to keep it secret. This may have been with threats against the child or against someone close to the child. Abusers often make children believe that the abuse is their fault that they in some way encouraged it. Abusers often tell the child that the abuse is part of a normal loving relationship..
It is also possible that some children don’t tell because they are very confused about the way that their body responded naturally to certain gentle caresses or that they felt ‘special’ receiving extra attention from the adult. at the same time as feeling disgusted and frightened of the sexually excited adult and their abusive exploitation.
Often the child does not know whether to trust another adult.
If your child tells you that they are being abused, you will almost certainly have a very strong emotional reaction. However you feel, it is very important to try to:
- Believe your child: it is very rare for children to lie about abuse
- Encourage your child to talk: talking helps. But don't force the conversation: let
- them decide when to give details or tell you certain things
- Explain and emphasise that it is NOT their fault: the abuser is to blame
- Reassure them that they are safe now
- Reassure them that they have done the right thing by telling you
- Get some professional support for your child. Rape Crisis Centres, the NSPCC, or your GP will be able to help you with this.
- Decide whether to inform the police
- Get some support for yourself: this will be a very difficult time for you. Try talking about your feelings with someone you trust. Alternatively, contact MOSAC – they offer support to non-abusing parents/carers of sexually abused children. They will help you to get professional help if you need it.
If you have any concerns about the safety of a child, it is best to trust your instincts and to act on those concerns. The child could be relying on you.
- Call the police if the child is in immediate danger
- Contact the NSPCC 24 hour helpline 0808 800 5000 to report or discuss a concern
- Get in touch with the local social services for advice about what to do next.
- Other useful organisations include Kidscape (020 7730 3300), and Parentline Plus (0808 800 2222).
Have to be very careful about intimating that the enjoyment was over riding their feelings of hatred and also survivors find this aspect of abuse the most difficult to talk about and admit to because they feel so ashamed of it.