Recognizing the signs of sexual abuse in children is often not easy, as the symptoms are not always apparent. It can be particularly difficult to identify symptoms of sexual abuse in children under the age of five. Careful observation of the child's physical and emotional habits often play a role in determining whether or not there may be cause for concern.
Children who are under the age of five often are unable to understand or explain what is happening with their bodies, particularly when they have been sexually abused. Physical indicators are often the first indication that there is cause for concern. Symptoms such as a sudden difficulty in walking or sitting, redness, bruising or injury to the genital area or an abnormal discharge from the penile or vaginal area are considered red flags and should be investigated immediately to determine their cause.
Children who are sexually abused at five or younger often display unusual changes in behavior. The child may become upset and cry when left alone with a particular caregiver or family member, develop sleep problems or begin having nightmares, may become overly aggressive or begin acting out inappropriately or withdraw and refuse to talk or communicate. While none of these behaviors are proof of sexual abuse, they may indicate trauma and should be investigated to determine the reasoning behind unusual behavioral changes.
Another red flag that is often seen in children who have been sexually abused under the age of five is a sudden knowledge of or interest in sexuality. Children may attempt to act out what has been done to them by inappropriately touching other children or family members or may attempt to insert items into the rectum or vagina. While curiosity about the body is a natural part of child development, sudden behaviors that would indicate an inappropriate knowledge of sex may be cause for concern.
Often times, children who are sexually abused are threatened by their abuser, and warned not to tell. Children under the age of five, however, often do not comprehend the impact of these threats and may speak of being touched by a caregiver or family member. Any communication by a child that would indicate that they have been sexually abused should be taken seriously and reported immediately. In babies and toddlers, verbal indicators may include crying and pulling or pointing at the genital area and crying whenever a particular person is present.