Each year, U.S. police departments receive as many as 80,000 reports of sexual abuse against children. However, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reports that this number is an underestimate. Many children who are abused are afraid to tell anyone what has happened.

Ninety percent of sexually abused children know their abuser. The abuser is a family member, friend, neighbor, child care provider, clergyman or teacher. The abusers are trusted adults. The child is taught to respect their authority. An abused child may feel that he will not be believed if he reports the abuse. He may feel that the abuse is his fault. Or, he may feel ashamed or afraid. Abusers often threaten to hurt the child or the child’s family if he talks about the abuse.

Sexual assault is more than a physical act. Sexual abuse can cause long-term emotional and psychological damage. Victims of prolonged sexual abuse often develop low self-esteem and an abnormal view of sex. Some children who are sexually abused find it difficult to relate to others in a non-sexual manner. Some sexually abused children become child abusers or prostitutes. If a child is being sexually abused, it is important that the problem be identified and the abuse be stopped as soon as possible. But, it is hard to stop abuse if the child doesn’t report it.

While a child may not verbally report sexual abuse, children who are sexually abused often exhibit certain behaviors. These behaviors don’t necessarily mean that a child was abused, but they are often indicators of a problem. If you see these signs in your child, contact your pediatrician.

Warning Signs of Possible Sexual Abuse in Children

  • A sudden change in sleeping habits
  • Nightmares
  • Sudden change in eating habits
  • Drastic increase in appetite
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Withdrawn or distant behavior
  • New or unusual fear or dislike of certain people or places
  • Insecure or fearful behavior
  • Clinginess
  • Talking about a new, older friend
  • Refusing to discuss secrets or conversations with an adult or older child
  • Money, toys, or other gifts that you didn’t provide
  • Referring to himself or his body as bad, repulsive, or dirty
  • Leaving “clues” that indicate a desire to discuss sexual issues
  • Writing about sex, drawing sexual images, or playing at sex
  • Adult-like sexual behavior, language, or knowledge
  • Self-injury
  • Suicidal behavior

If your child has been molested, you will feel angry. But, the best thing that you can do for your child is to remain calm and reassure him that the abuse was not his fault. Contact your pediatrician’s office to schedule a medical examination and psychiatric consultation.

If your child has been sexually abused, your first step should be to report the abuse to the police. The police will begin a criminal investigation. You also have the option of pursuing a civil lawsuit. While a criminal case will punish the abuser, a civil suit requires the abuser to compensate the victim. A civil lawsuit can be empowering for some families. If you would like to know more about civil claims for sexual abuse, contact a personal injury attorney who handles child sexual abuse cases in your state. The attorney will help make sure that you get accountability you deserve without causing further trauma to your child.

Jonathan Ostroff

Posted by Jonathan Ostroff

Jon Ostroff is the founder and named partner at Ostroff Injury Law, a personal injury law firm assisting people facing serious injuries due to a vehicle accidents, medical malpractice and product liability.