Warning Signs in Adults and Children

Behavioral warning signs of possible child sexual abuse

Any one sign doesn't mean the child was abused, but the presence of several suggests you begin asking questions and consider seeking help.

Keep in mind that some of these signs can emerge at other times of stress such as:

  • During a divorce.
  • When a family member, friend or pet passes away.
  • When there are conflicts with friends or at school.

Health/emotional changes

  • Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation.
  • Seems distracted or distant at odd times.
  • Has a sudden change in eating habits.
    - Refuses to eat
    - Loses or drastically increases appetite
    - Has trouble swallowing
  • Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal.
  • Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues.
  • Complains of stomach illness without reason.
  • Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images.
  • An older child behaving like a younger child, such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking.

Interactions with people

  • Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places.
  • Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child.
  • Talks about a new older friend.
  • Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason.

Sexual behaviors or self image

  • Has new words for private body parts.
  • Resists removing clothes when appropriate to do so:
    - Bath time, bed time
    - Toileting, diapering
  • Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge:
    - With other children
    - With toys
  • Asks other children to behave sexually.
  • Engages in self destructive behaviors:
    - Cutting, burning, inadequate personal hygiene
    - Drug and alcohol abuse
    - Sexual promiscuity
    - Running away from home.
  • Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad.

If you have noticed these signs in a child, look for guidance and help in responding from a professional or call the Stop It Now! Helpline (1.888.PREVENT).

Physical signs of possible child sexual abuse

  •  Has pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth
  •  Has persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements
  •  Has wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

If you said "yes" to any of these examples bring your child to a doctor. Your doctor can help you understand what may be happening and test for sexually transmitted diseases.

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Our Resources

Helpful Organizations
Organization: Child Help (1.800.4ACHILD)


1.800.422.4453  National website and confidential hotline offers support in response to all child abuse including referrals to counseling for child victims.


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