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Recognizing Sexual Abuse

Warning Signs in Children of Possible Sexual Abuse 

**Any one sign does not mean that a child was sexually abused, but the presence of several suggests that you begin asking questions and consider seeking help.**

Behavior you may see in a child or adolescent:

  • 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
  • Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places
  • Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
  • Writes, draws, plays, or dreams of sexual or frightening images
  • Talks about a new older friend
  • Suddenly has money, toys, or other gifts without reason
  • Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty, or bad
  • Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language, and knowledge

All of the warning signs listed above are general indicators of sexual abuse in children. Many children do not actually disclose what happened; it is up to attentive adults to recognize hints. However, if you suspect a child has been abused by seeing these indications, or if he or she hints at abuse or outright discloses sexual abuse, seek help. Behavior more typically found in adolescents (teens):

  • Self-injury (cutting, burning)
  • Inadequate personal hygiene
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • ​Running away from home
  • Depression, anxiety
  • Suicide attempts
  • Fear of intimacy or closeness
  • Compulsive eating or dieting

Stand Strong You Are Loved







Reactions that Survivors may experience:

There are many reactions that survivors of rape and sexual assault can experience. For traumatic events in general, it is important to realize that there is not one “standard” pattern of reaction to the extreme stress of traumatic experiences. Some people respond immediately, while others have delayed reactions—sometimes months or even years later. Some have adverse effects for a long period of time, while others recover rather quickly. Reactions can change over time. Some who have suffered from trauma are energized initially by the event to help them with the challenge of coping, only to later become discouraged or depressed.  The impact of sexual abuse varies from person to person and can occur on several levels—physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Survivors may experience some of the following responses:

•Fear responses to reminders of the assault

•Pervading sense of anxiety, wondering whether it is possible to ever feel safe again

•Re-experiencing assault over and over again through flashbacks

•Problems concentrating and staying focused on the task at hand

•Guilty feelings

•Developing a negative self-image, feeling “dirty” inside or out



•Disruptions in close relationships

•​Loss of interest in sex

Warning Signs That Might suggest Someone is Sexually Abusing a Child

The following behaviors could be cause for concern:

 •Making others uncomfortable by ignoring social, emotional, or physical boundaries or limits

•Refusing to let a child set any of his or her own limits; using teasing or belittling language to keep a child from setting a limit

•Insisting on hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling with, or holding a child even when the child does not want this physical contact or attention

•Turning to a child for emotional or physical comfort by sharing personal or private information or activities that are normally shared with adults 

•Frequently pointing out sexual images or telling inappropriate or suggestive jokes with children present 

•Exposing a child to adult sexual interactions without apparent concern

Having secret interactions with teens or children (e.g., games; sharing drugs, alcohol, or sexual material) or spending excessive time e-mailing, text-messaging, or calling children or youth 

•Being overly interested in the sexuality of a particular child or teen (e.g., talks repeatedly about the child’s developing body or interferes with normal teen dating) 

•Insisting on or managing to spend unusual amounts of uninterrupted time alone with a child 

•Seeming “too good to be true” (e.g., frequently babysits different children for free, takes children on special outings alone, buys children gifts or gives them money for no apparent reason) 

•Frequently walking in on children/teens in the bathroom 

•Allowing children or teens to consistently get away with inappropriate behaviors

Myths                                                                                             Facts

 It could never happen to me… Sexual Assault can happen to anyone. Most victims are women, however children of both sexes and teenage boys are at risk.
Most rapes occur among women of “low character”… Any person can be raped. Survivors represent all ages, races, classes, religions, occupations, and educational levels.
Rape is primarily a sexual crime… Rape is a violent assault. Rape is part of the verbal and physical abuse that occurs during the assault. 80% of rapist carry a weapon or threaten the victim with injury or death. Most people rape for power or domination than for sexual pleasure. Rapist often do not ejaculate.
 Women are “asking for it” by their dress or behavior… Rapist report what the woman was wearing, her age, and degree of physical attractiveness really did not matter that much to them. The victim is someone who happens to be there when they made the decision to rape.   Rapists also report they look for someone who looks easy to attack.
If a victim fights back and resists, she will not be raped… It is true that some rapists are discouraged by physical resistance. Other rapist become more violents and angrier at the resistance, which can result in serious injury. It is difficult for any person to predict the reaction of a rapist.
Rapist are easy to spot. They look like harden criminals… Most rapists appear to be perfectly normal men.   The majority of them are married and young. They usually are of the same race as their victim.
Rapes occur as a spur-of-the-moment act on a dark street by a stranger… Most rapes are carefully planned crimes that occur in someone’s home. The rapist is often someone the victim knows.

Sexual Assault

Sexual violence violates a person’s trust, autonomy and feeling of safety.
It occurs any time a person is forced, coerced, and/or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity.
The range of sexual violence includes rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, date and acquaintance rape, statutory rape, marital or partner rape, sexual exploitation, sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, human trafficking and voyeurism.
Rape is a crime. It is motivated by the need to control, humiliate, and harm. It is not motivated by sexual desire. Rapists use sex as a weapon to dominate and hurt others.
Facts About Sexual Assault
People don’t lie about being sexually assaulted.
Whenever a person experiences sexual assault, the idea that they will not be believed often acts as a deterrent to seeking help. Additionally, victim or survivors of sexual assault are also often blamed for what has happened to them. Because of this, and other factors, people who have been sexually assaulted report less often and do not get the help they need at a time when they need it most.
Why are there misconceptions about this?
There are many thoughts about why people think others lie about being sexually assaulted: the victim or survivor wants revenge, woke up the next morning and regretted having sex, etc. All of these ideas are false. Additionally, the general public does not want to believe that others they know and respect are capable of committing sexual assault.
The fact is…..
The FBI collects data on all crimes and has found that people falsely report being sexually assaulted at the same rate as other comparable crimes: 3 percent of the time.
Sexual assault occurs at rates much higher than what is actually reported. So, in other words, instead of thinking that people lie about being sexually assaulted the opposite is true. People are afraid to admit that they HAVE BEEN sexually assaulted because of the fear and pain that is associated with their lived experience.
People who commit sexual assault are people you know.
Often we think of people who rape as a specific person who looks, acts and lives a certain way. We think of them as being so different from us that they could not possibly be in our workplaces, neighborhoods and community events.
Why are there misconceptions about this?
The media falsely portrays those who commit sexual assault in a stereotypical way which influences how people form ideas around the issue. As a result, the general public is given the wrong impression of who is actually committing sexual assault.
The fact is…..
The majority people who commit sexual assault are everyday people who are married with children and regular jobs. They are also college students, family members, co-workers, etc. Their behavior is what makes them sexual predators not their lifestyles. This does not mean that stranger rape does not happen; it does. But most victims/survivors of sexual assault know their perpetrators.
People who are in a relationship can be sexually assaulted by their partner.
Just because two people are in a relationship does not mean that their partner cannot hurt them in a sexually violent way.
Why are there misconceptions about this?
One reason people think that people who are married or in committed relationships cannot sexually assault each other is because they have had sex with that person before – perhaps even for years – with permission. Therefore, there is a widely held belief that if one has given consent once, twice or over the years, then getting consent in the future is not necessary.
The fact is…..
“Research suggests that marital rape accounts for 25 percent of all rapes” (Bachman et al., 1994). Sexual assault between persons in a relationship, or what is called intimate partner rape (IPR), occurs in various ways – not just rape. Some of these ways include manipulation, coercion and pressuring the other person to have sex or do perform sexual activities when that person does not want to. No matter how long two people have been together or how many times they have had consensual sex in the past, does not give one person permission to sexually assault their partner.. Each time people engage in sex with their partners, they should use “checking in” language and use good communication to ensure that each partner is fully present in the decision to have sex.
Bachman, Ronet, and Bruce M. Taylor. “The Measurement of Family Violence and Rape by the Redesigned National Crime Victimization Survey,” Justice Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 3, September 1994.
Drunk or drug-facilitated sex can be sexual assault.
When drugs or alcohol are used to lower someone’s cognitive thinking skills or ability give consent to sexual activity that is rape. Often when a victim or survivor reports having been intoxicated or on drugs, their story is deemed “regret sex” or “they just had too much to drink.”
Why are there misconceptions about this?
Our society is one that uses sex to sell alcohol (which is a drug) and as a result, we are given images of how people are “supposed to act” when they are under the influence. These ideas come directly from the media and alcohol companies of whom portray women and men in very different roles when they are drinking. Women are portrayed as becoming sexually aroused and highly promiscuous. Men are portrayed as becoming reckless and predatory for sex. In other words, the media sells us ideas of the expectation of alcohol’s effect which leads to justifying the sexual act or dismissing the sex act as “just drunk sex.”
The fact is…..
“At least 50 percent of college students’ sexual assaults are associated with alcohol use” (Abbey, 2002). But the problem doesn’t stop at just college campuses. Alcohol and drug-induced sexual assaults occur inside and outside of our homes, workplaces and social functions. When alcohol and drugs are used as ways to lower a person’s inhibition or defenses so that they are not able to give consent, this is sexual assault and punishable under the law.
Abbey, A. (2002). “Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault: A Common Problem among College Students.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement 14: 118-128.
Men and women both can be victims of sexual assault.
Sexual assault and rape are traditionally thought to be a women’s issue; that women are the only ones who are and can be victimized; and that women are the ones who should end sexual assault. Unfortunately, men are victims and survivors of sexual assault and rape too. Their victimization is just as important to take seriously and end as women’s victimization.
Why are there misconceptions about this?
Men are told to play very specific stereotypical roles in our society. Those stereotypes include being physically strong, emotionally absent and always in control. When men are put into these types of boxes, there is little room for them to admit that they have been a victim of anything, let alone sexual assault. Many people believe that men should have been strong enough to fight off their attacker; that men are not able to be sexually assaulted by women; and that men are simply incapable of being sexually assaulted.
The fact is…..
“About 3 percent of American men – a total of 2.78 million men – have experienced a rape at some point in their lifetime” (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006). Men and boys’ responses to their victimization are important to take care of in respectful ways.


Information References:

1.Stop It Now!, “Behaviors to Watch for When Adults Are With Children.” (http://www.stopitnow.org/behaviors_watch_adult_with_children) (November 1, 2012)
2.American Psychological Association, “Managing Traumatic Stress: Tips for Recovering From Disasters and Other Traumatic Events.” How do people respond differently over time? (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/recovering-disasters.aspx)
3.Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, “Who Does It Impact?” (http://www.taasa.org) (November 1, 2012)
4. Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2006). Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey, NIJ, CDC.