What is considered child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse includes touching and non-touching activity. Some examples of touching activity include:
- touching a child’s genitals or private parts for sexual pleasure
- making a child touch someone else’s genitals, play sexual games or have sex putting objects or body parts (like fingers, tongue or penis) inside the vagina, in the mouth or in the anus of a child for sexual pleasure
Some examples of non-touching activity include:
- showing pornography to a child
- deliberately exposing an adult’s genitals to a child
- photographing a child in sexual poses
- encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts
- inappropriately watching a child undress or use the bathroom
Watching out for signs of sexual abuse can help you take timely action.
The worst of the worse nightmares for a parent is when their child is sexually abused. While we do everything in our control to ensure safety of our children, terrible things happen. Statistics and news will tell you that incidences of child sexual abuse are rampant. So apart from making sure your child is safe, what else can you do? You can know the signs of sexual abuse that you can watch out for and take timely action. Dr Shuchi Dalvi, child psychologist, explains a few signs you can watch out for.
- Bruises: The first and most obvious signs of sexual abuse would be bruises on the body, specifically on the arms, from holding and using force. Now children can also get bruises while playing and jumping around. Pay attention and notice how often the child comes home with bruises.
- Swelling of genital and/or chest area: One of the telltale signs is swelling or bruising in the genital and/or chest area. Also look out for scratches or signs of force around the areas. Also, redness in that area can mean pinching or rubbing.
- Difficulty in sitting or walking: If your child finds it difficult to sit or walk, it could mean that she is being sexually abused. Check for bruises, or get her checked by a doctor at the earliest.
- Has become quiet or secretive: One of the silent signs is your child becomes quiet and secretive. If your child does not feel comfortable sharing what happens at school or during the day when she is away from you, it should be a warning sign.
- Acts ‘jumpy’: If your child has suddenly become very jumpy, panicky, and look afraid most of the times, then there’s something wrong. Also, if she is having trouble sleeping, or suffers from nightmares, you need to take it seriously. Talking to your child is the first step and then take it from there. Do not shy away from taking medical help if your child needs it. And of course, make sure the perpetrator putting your child through this is nabbed and put behind bars.
Other Indications in children and adolescents of possible child sexual abuse
What to watch out for in children:
- Acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects
- Nightmares, sleeping problems
- Becoming withdrawn or very clingy
- Becoming unusually secretive
- Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings and seeming insecure
- Regressing to younger behaviours, e.g. bedwetting
- Unaccountable fear of particular places or people
- Outburst of anger
- Changes in eating habits
- New adult words for body parts and no obvious source
- Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts
- Self-harm (cutting, burning or other harmful activities)
- Physical signs, such as unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals or mouth, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy
- Running away
- Not wanting to be alone with a particular child or young person
Anyone sign doesn’t mean that a child was or is being sexually abused, but the presence of several suggests that you should begin to ask questions and consider seeking help. Keep in mind that some of these signs can emerge at other times of stress such as:
- During a divorce
- Death of a family member or pet
- Problems at school or with friends
- Other anxiety-inducing or traumatic events
Alexander, R. (2011) Introduction to the special section: medical advances in child sexual abuse, part 2. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 20(6): 607-611.
Allnock, D, et al (2009) Sexual abuse and therapeutic services for children and young people: the gap between provision and need: full report. London: NSPCC.
Calder, J., McVean, A. and Yang, W. (2010) History of abuse and current suicidal ideation: results from a population based survey. Journal of Family Violence, 25(2): 205-214.
Goodyear-Brown, P. (ed.) (2012) Handbook of child sexual abuse: identification, assessment and treatment. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.
McElvaney, R. (2015) Disclosure of child sexual abuse: delays, non-disclosure and partial disclosure: what the research tells us and implications for practice. Child abuse review (24, 3: 159-169.