Signs of Child Sexual Abuse


Sexual abuse is any sexual contact with a child or the use of a child for the sexual pleasure of someone else, include exposing private parts to the child or asking the child to expose him or herself, fondling of the genitals or requests for the child to do so, oral sex or attempts to enter the vagina or anus with fingers, objects or penis, although actual penetration is rarely achieved.



  • 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused in some way by the age of 18 (Kinsey, 1953; Finkelhor, 1979)
  • 10% of those children are preschoolers (Children's Hospital, D.C.)
  • 85-90% involve a perpetrator known to the child (Groth, 1982; DeFrancis, 1969; Russell, 1983)
  • 35% involve a family member (King County Rape Relief, Washington)
  • Only 10% of the offenses involve physical violence (Jaffee, 1975)
  • 50% of all assaults take place in the home of the child or the offender (Sanford, 1980)
  • The average offender is involved with over 70 children in his or her "career" of offending (Sanford, 1980, Abel and Becker, 1980)


Physical Indicators

  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Torn clothing,
  • Stained or bloody underwear
  • Pain or itching in genital area
  • Venereal disease, especially in preteens
  • Pregnancy


Behavioral Indicators in Child

Children often do not tell us with words that they have been sexually abused, or that they have successfully resisted an assault.   They hesitate to talk about what has happened for many reasons, including their relationship to the offender, fear of the consequences, retaliation or uncertainty about whether or not they will be believed.

Any one of the following signs or changes in behavior could indicate that there has been a sexual assault or it could be indicative of another problem. Whatever has caused a child's change in behavior should be explored.

  • Sudden reluctance to go someplace or be with someone
  • Inappropriate displays of affection
  • Sexual acting out
  • Sudden use of sexual terms or new names for body parts
  • Discomfort or rejection of typical family affection
  • Sleep problems, including: insomnia, nightmares, refusal to sleep alone or suddenly insisting on a night light
  • Regressive behaviors, including: thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, infantile behaviors or other signs of dependency
  • Extreme clinginess or other signs of fearfulness
  • A sudden change in personality
  • Problems in school
  • Unwilling to participate in or change clothing for gym class at school
  • Runs away from home
  • Bizarre or unusual sophistication pertaining to sexual behavior or knowledge, including sexual acting out
  • Reports sexual assault by parent or guardian


Indicators of Sexually Abusive Parent/Guardian

  • Overly protective or jealous of child and friends
  • Abuses alcohol or other drugs
  • Encourages exhibitionism in child
  • Voyeuristic, seductive to child
  • Exposes child to pornographic and sexually stimulating pictures
  • Encourages the child in promiscuous and/or prostitute acts
  • Freely talks or boasts about sexual themes with child



Abusers can be family, friends, neighbors, teachers, clergy or coaches.  As described by the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse:

Child abuse happens in all socio-economic, racial, ethnic and religious groups although it is now known that it does not occur equally over all groups (Fryer, 1990).



Children who have been physically, sexually and/or emotionally abused not only suffer a wide range of effects from their victimization, but are at greater risk to be abused again.

Abuse commonly produces feelings of:

  • guilt
  • violation
  • loss of control
  • lowered self-esteem.

Even those who seem to be handling their abuse are concerned that:

  • it might happen again
  • they did something wrong
  • future relationships might be abusive

What is Child Abuse and Who Are the Abusers?

Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

Effects of Child Sexual Abuse

Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse 

 What to do If A Child Reports Being Abused

Reporting Suspected Child Abuse

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Author Dr. Sherryll Kraizer has a Ph.D. in education with a specialization in youth at risk.