It is a heartbreaking truth that predators often turn out to be someone the child knows, such as a family member, family friend, teacher or neighbor. Abusers may threaten or manipulate the child to stay quiet, but the truth has ways of revealing itself.
Apart from manifesting symptoms, the child could show hints of their distress. By watching for the signs of sexual abuse, you may put the pieces together and guide the child to safety.
Signs of sexual abuse in children
Unfortunately, sexual abuse can happen for a long time without anyone knowing. However, there could be subtle but unusual changes that indicate abuse.
Among these are acting younger or overly mature than their age, suddenly developing a fear over certain people or places, changes in their eating habits, or losing interest in school and friends. They might also experience persistent stomachaches, pain or bleeding in the genital area, trouble walking or sitting, and unexplained bruises.
While there are no absolute signs of child sexual abuse, keeping a vigilant eye on the child and the adults around them is a proactive starting point. If you have any suspicions, it’s advisable to seek counsel from a medical or psychological expert.
How to respond when a child discloses sexual abuse
Children are rarely able to articulate abuse, especially if they are younger. However, they may say or do something unusual while playing or drawing that could indicate their struggles.
Starting a conversation about sexual abuse with a child can be extremely uncomfortable, but it may help to remember the purpose behind it. Your intervention can pave the way for the child to receive the necessary help and treatment and hold the abuser responsible for their actions.
To help the child be more comfortable with speaking up, consider doing the following:
- Talk to the child in private so as not to alert the potential abuser
- Use a conversational tone to avoid scaring the child
- Ask questions in a way that the child will understand
- Allow the child to speak without reacting too strongly, as it may upset the child
- Exercise patience since the child may not fully understand your questions or is scared to talk
Praise the child for sharing their experience with you. After confirming your suspicions, it’s essential to ensure the child’s safety by removing them from the proximity of their abuser. Don’t hesitate to reach out to local authorities or make a 911 call for assistance.