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Possible indicators of sexual abuse
By themselves, these signs do not prove abuse or neglect. But they do tell us we need to know more about the child's or youth's circumstances. They can be the result of phenomena such as divorce, separation, death of a significant person or the arrival of a new sibling. That's why indicators must be assessed by professionals. The important thing to know is what the signs are, and how to report them if a child or youth may need protection.

Physical indicators

  • fatigue due to sleep disturbances
  • sudden weight change
  • cuts or sores made by the child on the arm (self-mutilation)
  • recurring physical ailments
  • difficulty in walking or sitting
  • unusual or excessive itching in the genital or anal area due to infection(s)
  • torn, stained or bloody underwear
  • sexually transmitted disease(s)
  • pregnancy
  • injuries to the mouth, genital or anal areas (e.g. bruising, swelling, sores, infection)

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Behavioural indicators

In a younger child:

  • sad, cries often, unduly anxious
  • short attention span
  • inserts objects into the vagina or rectum
  • change or loss of appetite
  • sleep disturbances, nightmares
  • excessively dependent
  • fear of home or a specific place, excessive fear of men or women, lacks trust in others
  • age-inappropriate sexual play with toys, self, others (e.g. replication of explicit sexual acts)
  • age-inappropriate, sexually explicit drawings and/or descriptions
  • bizarre, sophisticated or unusual sexual knowledge
  • reverts to bedwetting/soiling
  • dramatic behavioural changes, sudden non-participation in activities
  • poor peer relationships, self-image
  • overall poor self-care

In an older child:

  • sudden lack of interest in friends or activities
  • fearful or startled response to touching
  • overwhelming interest in sexual activities
  • hostility toward authority figures
  • fire setting
  • need for constant companionship
  • regressive communication patterns (e.g. speaking childishly)
  • academic difficulties or performance suddenly deteriorates
  • truancy and/or running away from home
  • wears provocative clothing or wears layers of clothing to hide bruises (e.g. keeps jacket on in class)
  • recurrent physical complaints that are without physiological basis (e.g. abdominal pains, headache, nausea)
  • lacks trust in others
  • unable to "have fun" with others
  • suicide attempts
  • drug/alcohol misuse
  • poor personal hygiene
  • promiscuity
  • sexual acting out in a variety of ways

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