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Is Your Child Being Molested?

Learn to Listen with Your Eyes 
for the Signs of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Many adults expect children to tell us if they have been sexually abused but that is a difficult thing to do. As a matter of fact, I call you to the challenge - the next time you're in a crowd, I want you to pick a person and then go and open up a conversation where you tell them the intimate details of your last sexual experience. For them to fully grasp what you experienced, you'll have to tell them in as much detail as possible, including exactly what you did, what the other person did, how you felt, if you had an orgasm, if they used any devices. Now just for a moment, in the midst of visualizing yourself telling this story, I want you to picture that you are 6 years old and your last sexual experience was with your dad. Does this help you to begin to understand why children rarely tell?

As children carry the secret of abuse for months or even years, it can have significant impact on them physically, emotionally, and spiritually and this impact appears as Listen with your eyes smallvisible signs that we can see. This is why I am encouraging you all to learn to listen with your eyes!  Here is what you should be looking for. 


Physical Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Evidence of physical trauma: blood, swelling, or tears in the skin around the vagina, penis, or anus
  • Complaints of pain or burning during urination or bowel movements
  • Exhibiting symptoms of genital or urinary tract infections or STDs: offensive odor, itching, redness, rashes, blisters, or discharge in the genital area or the mouth and throat
  • Stress-related illnesses: chronic stomach aches or recurring migraine headaches
  • Self-mutilation: pinching themselves, burning themselves with cigarettes, puncturing themselves with pins, or cutting their bodies with knives or razor blades without intending to commit suicide

Emotional or Behavioral Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, and signs of post- traumatic stress disorder
  • Extreme fear
  • Aggressive behavior toward friends and family
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, or activities they previously enjoyed
  • Fear of certain people, places, or activities
  • Excessive sadness, depression, or suicide attempts
  • Decreased school performance
  • Eating disorders, loss of appetite, gagging
  • Sleep disturbances, nightmares, and screaming
  • Regressive behaviors, bedwetting, separation anxiety
  • Numbing their pain with alcohol, drugs, or cutting
  • Perfection and signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Loss of memory of certain years or large blocks of time

Sexual signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Increased questions about human sexuality
  • Excessive masturbation or masturbating in public
  • Increased sexual play with friends, pets, or toys
  • Talking about or acting out specific sexual acts
  • Increased choice of sexually revealing clothing or covering up
  • Signs of promiscuity
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Depicting people in a sexual way in pictures

Although your good sense may tell you not to believe rumors, according to experts in the field, it is important to realize that rumors are a good source of information1 and what you hear from others along with signs of abuse in children are strong indicators that a child may be experiencing sexual abuse. Your response to seeing these signs can vary depending on your relationship with the child and how many signs you see.

At mimimum if you know the child, let them know what you see and that you're concerned for them. Tell them that if someone is making them feel scared or uncomfortable, it's okay to tell you or another a trusted adult. Tell them, they can even ask a friend to tell a trusted adult. Ask them to name five adults they could tell their deepest secrets to - parents, a teacher, a doctor or nurse, a friend's Mom, etc. Be sure to include people from inside and outside the family because you may not know where the abuse is happening. Help the child understand that they have choices and there are people around them who can help. 

While a single sign does not necessarily mean that abuse has occurred, if you see multiple signs, chronic signs, or major changes in behavior, it should be cause for you to suspect abuse has occurred.

Let’s look further into the word “suspect” so we are all on the same page. The definition of suspect is to “have an idea or impression of the existence, presence, or truth of (something) without certain proof.”2 It is not up to you to prove that abuse has taken place before reporting to authorities. You simply have to have an idea or impression that something has taken place.

Former Deputy District Attorney and author, Robin Sax, says, “Reporting your suspicion is not the same as making an accusation. You are just asking the authorities to investigate the possibility that there may be a problem.”3 While the law differs by state, all states designate professionals who work with children to be mandated reporters4 and the law requires them to report suspicions of abuse, not just incidents where they have facts or hard evidence. Our hope is that every adult would consider it a moral obligation to report abuse, even if they are not required by law.

You should not rely on proof to get an investigation, you should rely on the investigation to get proof.

1. Shakeshaft, Charol. “Know the warning signs of educatorsexual misconduct.” Kappan Magazine, February 2013: 8–13. Charol Shakeshaft, “Know the Warning Signs of Educator Sexual Misconduct,”KappanMagazine (February 2013): 13.
2. Google Search, accessed August 5, 2014, efinitionandaqs=chrome.69i57.2763j0j7andsourceid=chro meandes_sm=93andie=UTF-8.
3. “Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect(State Statutes Current Through November 2013),” ChildWelfare Information Gateway, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2014): 1, gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/manda.cfm.
4. Robin Sax, It Happens Every Day: Inside the World of a Sex Crimes DA (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2010),135.
5. Diane Cranley, 8 Ways to Create their Fate: Protecting the Sexual Innocence of Children in Youth-Serving Organizations (Mustang: Tate Publishing & Enterprises, LLC, 2015), 340.

Child Sexual Abuse Survivor's Self-Assessment

Whether you're just beginning your healing journey or you've been working on it for a while, this self assessment tool naturally helps you create a plan for your healing process.
Initially when you take the assessment, it will help you to acknowledge the many ways your experience of childhood sexual abuse has impacted your life. Survivors often share that they had never connected many of their current patterns with their past abuse. For some it can be overwhelming to acknowledge the impact, so practice good self-care and complete the assessment in a safe place when you're free to spend some time with it - maybe do it with a theraist, a good friend, or another survivor if you feel like you might need extra support.
Although it can be overwhelming for some, the assessment process is also very enlightening and empowering. You will see on paper, maybe for the first time in your life, what areas you can focus on to improve your well-being. There is an endless supply of resources available, so let the assessment be your guide to researching which resources will help you heal.
For those who have been on their healing journey for a while, we recommend you complete the assessment twice - the first time acknowledging how your childhood abuse impacted your life overall and the second time noting how it is still impacting your life. We often fail to give ourselves credit for the work we've done and how much we have grown and healed. So let the assessment be a reflection of your progress and take the time to celebrate your success!
Consider completing the assessment once or twice a year to help you stay focused on moving forward and proactively seeking resources to help with specific opportunities for healing.

Download Our Child Sexual Abuse Survivor's Self-Assessment

Check all bullets that apply and circle specific items within bullets that apply.
  • Fear of being alone in the dark, sleeping alone, nightmares, night terrors (especially of pursuit, threat, or entrapment)
  • Swallowing or gagging sensations, problems eating specific foods
  • Fear of water on one's face when bathing or swimming, feelings of suffocation
  • Poor body image, not at home in your own body, poor hygiene, manipulating your body size to avoid sexual attention
  • Avoidance of mirrors (connected with shame/self-esteem issues)
  • Physical health issues, gastrointestinal problems, gynecological disorders, joint pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, disease (cancer, lung disease, etc.)
  • Wearing a lot of clothing, baggy clothing, failure to remove clothing even when appropriate to do so such as while swimming, bathing, sleeping)
  • Extreme requirement for privacy
  • Eating disorders, drug or alcohol abuse, other addictive or compulsive behaviors
  • Self wounding behavior (burning, cutting, breaking bones, etc.)
  • Phobias (fear of heights, spiders, etc.)
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans or attempts
  • Depression, seemingly baseless crying, lack of connection to others or to the world
  • Need to be invisible, perfect or bad
  • Anger issues; inability to recognize, control or express your own anger, intense hostility toward entire gender or ethnic group of the perpetrator
  • Split personality, splitting, going into shock, shutdown in stressful situations, disassociation
  • Physical pain or numbness associated with a particular memory, emotion or situation
  • Adult nervousness over being watched, touched, surprised –extreme startle response
  • Trust issues, inability to trust, or trusting indiscriminately
  • High risk taking or inability to take risks
  • Boundary issues, problems standing up for yourself, letting others take advantage of you, engaging in abusive relationships or putting yourself in risky situations
  • Control, power or territorial issues, fear of losing control, obsessive/compulsive behaviors (attempts to control things that don't matter, just to control them)
  • Feelings of having no choice, indecisiveness, inability to see options, stuck/can't get out of situation
  • Guilt, shame, low self-esteem, feeling worthless
  • Pattern of being a victim, especially sexually; no sense of own power or right to set limits or say no
  • Pattern of relationships with much older people
  • Abandonment issues, fear of being betrayed, leaving relationships before others can hurt you
  • Blocking out some timeframe, typically in early childhood or anxiety when thinking back to particular age ranges
  • Feeling of carrying an awful secret, fear of telling the truth
  • Denial, no awareness at all, repression of memories, minimizing
  • Triggers - strong reaction to a person, place or event, smell, sound, or even time of year, etc.
  • Sexual issues, sex feels dirty, aversion to being touched, sex is only good when it's bad, strong aversion or attraction to particular sex acts, having to pursue power or be submissive in a sexual relationship, crying after orgasm, all pursuit feels like violation, erotic response to abuse or anger, sexaholism, prostitution, promiscuous sex with strangers often with inability to have sex in an intimate relationship, compulsively seductive or asexual
  • Problems with intimacy – sexual, physical, or emotional