One of the biggest challenges faced by parents and caregivers is recognizing signs that a child has been a victim of sexual abuse, or that they are currently being sexually abused. As we are accustomed to children acting out, and may miss signals they are sending us.
Parents and caregivers should be aware that statistically, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they reach the age of 18. The rates of abuse may be even higher due to children not informing a parent, guardian, or other caregiver out of fear. This is one of the primary reasons we should all be aware of the signals children are sending us by acting out. If you have more legal questions regarding sexual abuse the legal team at Gomez Trial Attorneys is more than willing to help and you can schedule a free consultation at any time.
Children Nearly Always Know Their Abuser
Another grave concern for parents and caregivers is the abuser is nearly always known to the child. While we take a great deal of time warning our children about strangers, in nearly 90 percent of all cases of sexual abuse of a child, the child is familiar with their abuser.
In addition to family members, family friends, or neighbors, trusted advisors are also frequent perpetrators of sexual abuse. Members of the clergy, coaches, boy scouts, or teachers have regular access to children, and often have the trust of parents and family members. Even when a child does come forward, abusers can often continue to take advantage of the family’s trust with convincing denials that further make families question who to believe.
Behavioral Indications to Note
Children often act out when they are dealing with challenges. We see this when a child is being bullied at school, when they are unhappy about something occurring in our families, or when they are simply going through some developmental changes that leave them feeling confused. These days, we are busy with caring for family, working, and running errands, and it is easy to miss the signs that there may be something else your child is trying to tell you when they are acting out.
Warning Signs of Potential Abuse in Younger Children
Children in different age groups will act out in different ways when they are being abused. Some of the signs you should note include a child who suddenly appears to participate in sexual acts with themselves, others, or even with their toys in ways that seem inappropriate for their age. Curiosity about their own bodies is perfectly normal in children but, in cases where a child is being sexually abused, they may appear to have more knowledge than seems appropriate for their age.
You may notice other signs including a reduced attention span, nightmares, or excessive fear of strangers. In some instances, a child will also become clingier and want to be with one or both parents to the exclusion of being with anyone else. This could be a sign of excess dependence because the child feels safer when with a parent. Other signs you should be aware of include:
- Avoiding activities they previously enjoyed
- Poor self-hygiene and unusual bed wetting
- Signs of unusual sadness or bouts of crying
- Pulling back from contact like hugs from those close to them
- Fear of being alone or leaving the home
When these types of signals are being given by a young child, parents should attempt to talk to the child and see if the child willingly tells them anything. In some cases, you may have to remind your child they need not keep any secrets from you, even if someone has asked them to do so.
Signals of Sexual Abuse in Older Children Are More Complex
The older a child is, the more challenging it may be to realize their behavioral changes are due to abuse. It is common for older children to go through a rebellious stage where they are not open to input from teachers, coaches, or parents. Other changes children go through as pre-teens and teens may seem out of the ordinary but are still fairly typical, such as cutting class, suddenly getting poor grades, or attempting to run away from home.
The challenge for parents and other caregivers is understanding that when these individual situations occur, they may appear to be somewhat normal but, when combined with other behavioral changes, they may be signals your child is dealing with some form of sexual abuse. Some of the signals you may notice include:
- Fear of being alone
- Pulling back in fear or being surprised when hugged ed by a family member
- Avoiding participating in events they previously enjoyed with friends
- Attempts at self-mutilation or suicide
- Sudden and consistent abuse of drugs or alcohol
- Sudden obsession with sexual activities or multiple sex partners
- Lack of communication and/or hygiene
- Sudden physical health complaints that appear to lack any basis in reality
When parents notice any of these possible issues, they are strongly encouraged to speak with their children. The better the freedom of communication you have previously established, the better the opportunity for your child to open up to you and tell you what is or has been happening to them. While it may be difficult with an older child, parents must find the means to communicate that they will believe their child, and accept their child’s side of the story. Some children will feel more confident talking to someone of the same sex versus the opposite sex.
Parents often do not know where to turn when they learn their child has been sexually abused. Law enforcement should be notified immediately once you have established the facts. From there, the most important thing you can do is make sure they are not harmed physically and immediately seek counseling for them.
Seeking Compensation and Justice for Your Child
Prosecutors have a difficult job when they go after those who sexually abuse a child. In too many cases, it comes down to the child’s word against that of their abuser. Prosecution rates are far lower than they should be because in many cases, a plea deal is reached with the abuser, which can spare your child from having to tell their story in court.
Whether your child’s abuser is prosecuted or not, your child is likely to face years of counseling to recover from the broken trust and trauma they have suffered. Therefore, it is a good idea for you to consider contacting an attorney who has experience handling sexual abuse cases. By taking advantage of a free consultation, you have the opportunity to get answers to some of your questions and make a decision about what is right for your child.
Gomez Trial Attorneys
655 West Broadway
San Diego, CA 92101