HOW CAN I TELL IF A CHILD HAS BEEN SEXUALLY ABUSED?
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.
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.