Spotting Sexual Assault Signs in Young Children

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) documents that every 9 minutes, government authorities respond to another report of child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse is not limited to sexual contact with a child but also includes other actions, like exposing the body, taking inappropriate photos or videos of a child, or sharing obscene images. Learn the sexual assault signs in young children below.

Warning signs:

Information provided by RAINN:

Warning signs of sexual abuse are red flags that the child needs medical attention often. Always listen to your gut instincts. If you have any suspicions about sexual assault, talk to the child who may be experiencing abuse.

Physical signs:
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Signs of trauma to the genital area, such as unexplained bleeding, bruising, or blood on the sheets, underwear, or other clothing
Behavioral signs:
  • Excessive talk about or knowledge of sexual topics
  • Keeping secrets Not talking as much as usual
  • Not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior
  • Regressive behaviors or resuming behaviors they had grown out of, such as thumb-sucking or bedwetting
  • Overly compliant behavior
  • Sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age
  • Spending an unusual amount of time alone
  • Trying to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe
Emotional signs:
  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in mood or personality, such as increased aggression
  • Decrease in confidence or self-image
  • Excessive worry or fearfulness
  • Increase in unexplained health problems such as stomach aches and headaches
  • Loss or decrease in interest in school, activities, and friends
  • Nightmares or fear of being alone at night
  • Self-harming behaviors

Signs That an Adult May Be Hurting a Child

Perpetrators often include adults that the children know such as family members, members of faith communities, coaches, teachers, and other helping professionals. It is important to stay cautious of adults who spend a lot of time with children and exhibits the following behaviors:

  • Does not respect boundaries or listen when someone tells them “no”
  • Engages in touching that a child or child’s parents/guardians have indicated is unwanted
  • Tries to be a child’s friend rather than filling an adult role in the child’s life
  • Does not seem to have age-appropriate relationships
  • Talks with children about their personal problems or relationships
  • Spends time alone with children outside of their role in the child’s life or makes up excuses to be alone with the child
  • Expresses unusual interest in child’s sexual development, such as commenting on sexual characteristics or sexualizing normal behaviors
  • Gives a child gifts without occasion or reason
  • Spends a lot of time with your child or another child you know
  • Restricts a child’s access to other adults

Identifying child sexual abuse may be difficult and challenging if you suspect something is off but remember, you are not alone. If you are seeing sexual assault signs in young children or suspect a child in your life may be experiencing sexual abuse, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of A Second Chance, Inc.

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