Unfortunately, there is not always a clear signal that indicates a child is being sexual abused. There are, however, signs that indicate a child might be experiencing some kind of abuse. Any one sign does not mean a child is being abused. For example, these signs may indicate a child is experiencing stress due to a divorce or a death in the family. However, if you notice a child is experiencing several of the symptoms listed below, you should be asking questions:

  • Pain or itching in genital area;
  • Bruises or bleeding in external genitalia;
  • Venereal disease;
  • An increase in physical complaints;
  • Unexplained fear or dislike of certain people or places depression or withdrawal;
  • Problems with bedtime or afraid to go to bed;
  • Nightmares or other sleep disturbances;
  • Lack of confidence;
  • Fear of certain people or places (e.g., a child may not want to be left alone with a babysitter, a friend, a relative or some other child or adult; or a child who is usually talkative and cheery may become quiet and distant when around a certain person);
  • Frequent stomach illness with no identifiable reason;
  • Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, anger or withdrawal;
  • Loss of appetite, or trouble eating or swallowing;
  • Regression to infantile behaviors such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting;
  • Abnormal interest in sex or knowledge of sexual matters inappropriate for the child's age;
  • Frequent genital or urinary tract infections or irritations;
  • Preoccupation with their body or excessive masturbation;
  • Bedwetting - especially if it begins in a child who has been dry;
  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothing;
  • Sexual activities with toys or other children, such as simulating sex with dolls or asking other children/siblings to behave sexually;
  • New words for private body parts;
  • Refusing to talk about a "secret" he/she has with an adult or older child.

In older children and teens you may see additional behaviors such as:

  • Self-injury such as burning or cutting;
  • Suicide attempts;
  • School or discipline problems;
  • Eating disorders;
  • Low self esteem;
  • Running away.


One Child's Story of Sexual Abuse

Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape

What is the HERO Project?

HERO, a project of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, is a community-based, media-driven, child sexual abuse prevention program designed to educate and motivate adult community members to call the 24-hour HERO Hotline if they suspect child sexual abuse. Learn More about how to step in and stop abuse