Child Sexual Abuse



Sexual assault of children often includes incest as a subset of this form of sexual assault. While there is a substantial amount of overlap in the two types of assault, for the purposes of this website we have separated them in recognition of the different needs that victims of each type of assault may have.


Contact Can Include:
  • Fondling
  • Obscene phone calls
  • Exhibitionism
  • Masturbation
  • Intercourse
  • Oral or anal sex
  • Prostitution
  • Pornography
  • Any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare


Additional Features
  • May consist of a single incident or many acts over a long period of time.
  • Abuse is more often perpetrated by someone known to the child.
  • Abuse may escalate over time, particularly if the abuser is a family member.


Adult Reactions

Many adults tend to overlook, to minimize, to explain away, or to disbelieve allegations of abuse. This may be particularly true if the perpetrator is a family member.

NOTE: The absence of force or coercion does not diminish the abusive nature of the conduct, but, sadly, it may cause the child to feel responsible for what has occurred.


Warning Signs

Physical Signs
  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Bloody, torn, or stained underclothes
  • Bleeding, bruises, or swelling in genital area
  • Pain, itching, or burning in genital area
  • Frequent urinary or yeast infections
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections, especially if under 14 years old
  • Pregnancy, especially if under 14 years old


Behavioral Signs
  • Reports sexual abuse
  • Inappropriate sexual knowledge
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Nightmares or bed-wetting
  • Large weight changes/major changes in appetite
  • Suicide attempts or self-harming, especially in adolescents
  • Shrinks away or seems threatened by physical contact
  • Runs away
  • Overly protective and concerned for siblings, assumes a caretaker role
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Rape Trauma Syndrome symptoms


Common Reactions

  • Withdrawal
  • Depression
  • Sleeping & eating disorders
  • Self-mutilation
  • Phobias
  • Psychosomatic symptoms (stomachaches, headaches)
  • School problems (absences, drops in grades)
  • Poor hygiene/excessive bathing
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Regressive behaviors – thumb-sucking, etc.


What should I do if I suspect my child is being sexually abused?

Talking to your child if you suspect that they are being sexually abused

Parents are surrounded by messages about child sexual abuse. Talkshows and TV news warn parents about dangers on the Internet, at school and at home. However, parents don’t get much advice on how to talk to their children if they are concerned that sexual abuse is occurring.
Talk to your child directly.

  • Pick your time and place carefully!
    • Have this conversation somewhere that your child feels comfortable.
    • DO NOT ask your child about child abuse in front of the person you think may be abusing the child!
  • Ask if anyone has been touching them in ways that don’t feel okay or that make them feel uncomfortable.
    • Know that sexual abuse can feel good to the victim, so asking your child if someone is hurting them may not get the information that you are looking for.
  • Follow up on whatever made you concerned. If there was something your child said or did that made you concerned, ask about that.
    • Ask in a nonjudgmental way, and take care to avoid shaming your child as you ask questions.
      • ”I” questions can be very helpful. Rather than beginning your conversation by saying “You (the child) did something/said something that made me worry…” consider starting your inquiry with the word “I.” For example: “I am concerned because I heard you say that you are not allowed to close the bathroom door.”
    • Make sure that your child knows that they are not in trouble, and that you are simply trying to gather more information.
  • Talk with your child about secrets.
    • Sometimes abusers will tell children that sexual abuse is a secret just between them. They may ask the child to promise to keep it secret.
    • When you talk to your child, talk about times that it’s okay not to keep a secret, even if they made a promise.

Build a trusting relationship with your child.

  • Let your child know that it is okay to come to you if someone is making them uncomfortable.
    • Be sure to follow up on any promises you make—if you tell your child that they can talk to you, be sure to make time for them when they do come to you!
  • All children should know that it’s okay to say “no” to touches that make them uncomfortable or if someone is touching them in ways that make them uncomfortable and that they should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.
    • Let your child know that you won’t get angry at them if they tell someone “no.” Children are often afraid that they will get into trouble if they tell someone not to touch them.
  • Teach children that some parts of their body are private.
    • Tell children that if someone tries to touch those private areas or wants to look at them, OR if someone tries to show the child their own private parts, they should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.
    • Let children know that they will not be in trouble if they tell you about inappropriate touching.
      • Make sure to follow through on this if your child does tell you about inappropriate touching! Try not to react with anger towards the child.

If you have reason to be concerned about sexual abuse, there may be other signs of sexual abuse as well. (List of signs above). As you talk to your child about sexual abuse, remember to focus on creating a safe place for your child. Even if they don’t tell you about sexual abuse at the time of the conversation, you are laying a foundation for future conversations.

Additional Resources

Stop It Now: The Campaign to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

Childhelp USA

Darkness to Light

National Children’s Alliance

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA)

Learn more about the laws in your state through RAINN’s state database.


Texas Association Against Sexual Assault

National Children’s Advocacy Center

Child Welfare Information Gateway


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