Note: Sudden changes in a child followed by signs of distress should be taken seriously, and professional advise should be sought.

Signs of distress or trauma can be caused by various stressful events, including sexual abuse.  Not all abuse victims report the same symptoms.  If a child presents with a number of these symptoms, sexual abuse should be considered.  I would advise seeking help from a professional or from a crisis agency.  Most children are not able to communicate what has happened to them so it is critical that parents and caregivers be aware of these indicators, to advocate for the child.  The life of a child is at stake, your actions are important in getting needed help.


*Sudden change in behavior

*Loss of memory

*Feeling guilty or responsible for the abuse

*Flashbacks or intrusive memories

*Aggressive behavior -May act out sexually towards others (renacting abuse or feelings resulting from sexual abuse), May break objects, May hurt others or self, May hurt animals

*Hurting self

*Sudden mood swings (In traumatized children the moods often swing from passive/withdrawn to volatile)

*Panic attacks

*Fear of a type of person (usually resembles abuser)

*Regressive behavior (thumb sucking, crawling, bed wetting, babbling/baby talk, etc.)

*Excessive crying or crying fits

*Fear of separation or being left alone


*Low self-esteem

*Dissociation (May seem in a dream-like state, slow to respond, or lack emotion)

*Passive/Overly compliant


*Difficulty talking or suddenly stops talking




*Lack of trust

*Inability to bond or form relationships with others

*Fears (may lead to isolation or avoidance of being in the public or with others)

*Promiscuous or Inability to be initimate

*Children may seek attention or affection from anyone, including strangers

*Sexualized Play (Excessive or focused masturbation, Putting objects in the genitals, Reenacting sexual abuse in play, Knowing more about sexual acts than a child should know)

*Panic attacks

*Fear of a certain place (often where the abuse occured or a place that triggers memories of the abuse)

*Problems in School or Sudden Changes in School (Truancy, Poor Grades, Rebellion, etc)


*Chronic pain with no known cause



*Lack of energy/Tired


*Hair loss

*Eating Disorders

*Loss of Appetite

*Nightmares or Night Terrors (Severe sleep disturbances characterized by screaming, getting out of bed, shaking, sitting up, or jerking without actually waking)


*Wearing layers of clothing or baggy clothing (trying to hide behind clothing)

Some children are physically injured from acts of sexual abuse and may have STDs, bladder infections, bruises, cuts and infections.

If you notice any of these indicators in a child, even a young child, be aware that the child may start to hurt themselves (even unintentionally). Pay attention to bruises, scratches, burns, cuts, different eating behaviors, and when the child choose to be alone for a lengthy amount of time.  If you are suspicious that the child is hurting themself or at risk, seek help. Remain supportive of the child, reaffirm that you care and you want to help.


Child Trauma Academy: Sexual Abuse of Children

Parenting a Sexually Abused Child by Lawrence R. Ricci, M.D.


Prevent Child Abuse: Sexual Abuse Child Sexual Abuse (includes information about online safety)

Stop It Now: Warning Signs About Sexual Abuse