Sexual Abuse in Kids and Teens: Red Flags to Watch Out For

Sexual harassment stories in schools trended in social media last week, and as a parent, I couldn't help but get worried. So, what are the red flags we should know? πŸ˜•

Image Credit: Unsplash/Andrew Neel

#MCHSDoBetter and #SPCPSquareUp were two hashtags that trended on Twitter last week, and it was not a good thing. Students and alumni used the hashtags to speak up and detailed stories of sexual harassment and other abuse that they allegedly experienced while studying in two exclusive all-girls schools in the country. It was enough to empower other students who might be afraid to also speak up. It was even enough for the schools to release their own respective statements condemning the acts and promising actions about it. And it is more than enough to make parents realize that such things can happen even in schools, which are supposedly safe places for our kids.

So how can parents know that their child or teen might be sexually abused? Here are a few red flags to watch out for. Remember, one sign does not necessarily mean that he/she is abused, but if you do notice several of them in your child at once, then it might be time to start asking questions and even consider seeking help.

Behavior red flags you might see in a child or a teen:

  • Has sleep problems or nightmares without any explanation
  • Sometimes seems distracted or even odd
  • Displays a sudden change in eating habits
    • Refuses to eat
    • A drastic loss or increase in appetite
    • Has trouble swallowing
  • Displays sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity, withdrawal
  • Has indications that seem to provoke discussions about sexual issues
  • Writes, draws, dreams, or even plays out situations of sexual or frightening images or situations
  • Develops new or uncertain fears of certain people or places
  • Refuses to talk about a β€œsecret” shared with an adult or another child
  • Talks about a new β€œolder” friends
  • Has new items, money, or gifts without any reason
  • Thinks of self or body as bad, dirty, or repulsive
  • Displays adult-like sexual behaviors, language, and knowledge

Typical red flags in young kids:

  • Regresses to younger behavior, such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking
  • Uses new words for private body parts
  • Doesn’t like and even outright resists taking off clothes even when needed (such as when taking a bath, to change clothes for bed or going out, going to the toilet, or changing diapers)
  • Makes or mimic adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animals
  • Has diaper accidents (wetting or soiling) that are unrelated to toilet training

Other red flags that can be seen in teens:

  • Self-injury (cutting, burning)
  • Inadequate personal hygiene
  • Substance and alcohol abuse
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Running away from home
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Suicide attempts
  • Fear of intimacy or closeness
  • Compulsive eating or dieting

Physical red flags:

Physical signs of sexual abuse might be rare, but if you do notice any of these in your child or teen, it’s best to bring them to a doctor. A medical practitioner can assess and help you both understand what might be happening and perform the necessary tests for STDs and other related illnesses:

  • Pain, discoloration, bleeding, or discharges in the genital area, anus, or mouth
  • Recurring or constant pain during urination or bowel movements
  • Wetting or soiling accidents that are unrelated to toilet training

Ultimately, it’s best to be wary of any changes in your child or teen, talk to them about it ASAP, and even seek help if necessary.


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