20 Signs Of Sexual Abuse And How To Address Them According To Professionals

Sexual abuse includes any form of sexual violence, including non-consensual sexual contact, rape, incest, and child molestation. Sexual harassment also constitutes sexual abuse, as the victim doesn’t have to be physically touched or experience prolonged sexual assault or contact.

Sexual harassment includes sex-based harassment, offensive “jokes” or comments based on sex, unwanted sexual contact or advances, and pressure to perform sexual favours. More broadly, sexual harassment also includes cat-calling, sexual gestures or comments, referring to a person using demanding language, like “hunk” or “babe,” staring, and personal or unwanted gifts. Nearly 40% of women and 20% of men in the US are victims of sexual violence.

How To Address Sexual Abuse

Men, women, and children must be knowledgeable about the signs of sexual abuse so they can help themselves or others seek help. If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual violence in California, you can dial 800.656.4673 or contact a trusted sexual abuse lawyer.

Childhood and the sexual abuse of children are common. 44% of sexual assault victims are under 18, 20% of them experience sexual abuse before age 8. Despite the prevalence, children are less likely to report their abuse because 93% know their attackers. Sexual abuse in children may be difficult to recognise, but early reporting can prevent physical and mental health concerns in adulthood, like substance abuse and further sexual abuse.

Here are some things you can do to start healing or help someone help from sexual abuse:

  • Educate yourself on sexual assault, abuse, and harassment.
  • Get medical treatment ASAP to protect yourself against STDs, STIs, and pregnancy.
  • Know that you’re not to blame, you’re not alone, and people want to help.
  • Speak to someone you trust, like a friend, close family member, or social worker.
  • Tell the police if you want to report your assault. You don’t have to press charges.
  • Try to leave your abuser soon as possible. Collect all needed personal documents.
  • Create a protection plan if you’re under the age of 18 and can’t leave home.
  • Call an abuse helpline in your area and speak to a professional for counselling.
  • Try to get compensation for your crime to try and supplement losses incurred.
  • Find a long-term safe space, like a shelter or a friends/family home.

What happened to you wasn’t fair, kind, and it has likely made you feel unsafe. Although it sounds impossible now, through self-care and professional help, you’ll start to recover.

Common Signs Of Sexual Abuse

Parents, relatives, teachers, or another trusted third-party need to be aware of the following behavioural, physical, and emotional signs of sexual abuse to protect children, as well as adults.

Behavioural Signs

Child sexual abuse can seem like bad behaviour to parents and anti-social behaviour to adults. However, if anyone you know is “acting out,” they may not be able to communicate their feelings safely, correctly, or in a way that doesn’t make them feel like they’re at fault for their actions. 

Here are the most common behavioural signs someone may present after experiencing trauma:

  • Sudden, unexplained change in behaviour
  • Acting younger or more childlike
  • Fear of being alone with a specific person
  • Fear or recoiling after being touched
  • Substance abuse
  • Changes in work/school performance
  • Sudden, unexplained fear of places or people
  • Self-harm and self-mutilation, including not eating
  • Heightened sexuality (questions about sex, sexual drawing, frequent masturbation)
  • Frequent questions about sex or inappropriate sexual gestures

It’s normal and natural for children, teens, and young adults to exhibit sexual behaviours, but some actions aren’t healthy and could indicate abuse. Consult this sexual development chart to ensure your child isn’t displaying any concerning behaviours or developing at an alarming rate.

Physical Signs

Here are some physical signs that may indicate the possibility of physical abuse:

  • Eating less or more than usual
  • Issues sleeping
  • Bedwetting or soiled clothing
  • Itching or pain in the genital area
  • Stained underwear (discharge or blood)
  • Problems sitting or walking
  • Rectal or vaginal bleeding

If your child is showing any of the above physical signs, take them to the doctor and remove them from their abuser, if possible. Call child protective services or a shelter for help.

Emotional Signs

Here are some emotional signs that may indicate sexual abuse:

  • Depression (suicide ideation, withdrawal, low self-esteem, crying)
  • Anxiety (clinging, nightmares)
  • Anger (aggression, tantrums, irritability)

Sexual abuse has the potential to leave long-lasting psychological scars. Some survivors may experience chronic pain, fertility issues, and sexual dysfunction. It’s essential to seek help immediately from a mental health professional who will offer a safe space free of judgement.

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