Recognizing Child Abuse

Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

  • Unexplained injuries. Visible signs of physical abuse may include unexplained burns or bruises in the shape of objects.
  • Returning to earlier behaviors. Abused children may display behaviors shown at earlier ages, such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark or strangers. For some children, even loss of acquired language or memory problems may be an issue.
  • Changes in behavior. Abuse can lead to many changes in a child’s behavior. Abused children often appear scared, anxious, depressed withdrawn or more aggressive.
  • Fear of going home. Abused children may express apprehension or anxiety about leaving school or about going places with the person who is abusing them.
  • Changes in eating. The stress, fear and anxiety caused by abuse can lead to changes in a child’s eating behaviors, which may result in weight gain or weight loss.
  • Changes in sleeping. Abused children may have frequent nightmares or have difficulty falling asleep, and as a result may appear tired or fatigued.
  • Changes in school performance and attendance. Abused children may have difficulty concentrating in school or have excessive absences, sometimes due to adults trying to hide the children’s injuries from authorities.
  • Lack of personal care or hygiene. Abused and neglected children may appear uncared for. They may present as consistently dirty and have severe body odor, or they may lack sufficient clothing for the weather.
  • Risk-taking Behaviors. Young people who are being abused may engage in high-risk activities such as using drugs or alcohol or carrying a weapon.
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior. Children who have been sexually abused may exhibit overly sexualized behavior or use explicit sexual language.

Myths & Facts of Child Sexual Abuse

  • Myth #1: Child sexual abuse occurs only among strangers. If children stay away from strangers, they will not be sexually abused.
    Fact: National statistics indicate that in approximately 88% of the cases, the offender is known to the victim. He/she is usually relative, family member, family friend, baby-sitter or older friend of the child.
  • Myth #2: Children provoke sexual abuse by their seductive behavior.
    Fact: Seductive behavior is not the cause. Responsibility for the act lies with the offender. Sexual abuse sexually exploits a child not developmentally capable of understanding or resisting and/or who may be psychologically or socially dependent on the offender.
  • Myth #3: The majority of child sexual abuse victims tell someone about the abuse.
    Fact: According to a study by Dr. David Finkelhor, close to 2/3 of all child victims may not tell their parents or anyone else because the fear being blamed, punished or not believed.
  • Myth #4: Men and women sexually abuse children equally.
    Fact: Men are offenders 94% of the time in cases of child sexual abuse. Men sexually abuse both make and female children. 75% of male offenders are married or have consenting sexual relationships. Only about 4% of same-sex abuse involves homosexual perpetrators, 96% of the perpetrators are heterosexual.
  • Myth #5: If the children did not want it, they could say “Stop!”
    Fact: Children generally do not question the behavior of adults, having been taught to obey them. They are coerced by bribes, threats, and use of a position of authority.
  • Myth #6: All sexual abuse victims are girls.
     Studies on child sexual abuse indicate one in four females under the age of 18 and one in four males under the age of 18 are child sexual abuse victims.
  • Myth #7: Family sexual abuse is an isolated, one-time incident.
    Fact: Studies indicate that most child sexual abuse continues for at least two years before it is reported, and in most cases, the abuse does not stop until it is reported.
  • Myth #8: In family sexual abuse, the “non-offending” parent always knows.
    Fact: While some “non-offending” parents know and even support the offenders actions, many, because of their lack of awareness, may suspect something is wrong, but are unclear as to what it is or what to do.
  • Myth #9: Family sexual abuse only happens in low-income families.
    Fact: Family sexual abuse crosses all classes of society. There is no race, social, or economic class that is immune to family sexual abuse. Incest is estimated to occur in 14% of all families. Up to 25% of American children are incest victims.
  • Myth #10: Non-violent sexual behavior between a child and adult is not damaging to the child.
    Nearly all victims will experience confusion, shame, guilt, anger and a poor self-image. Child sexual abuse can result in long-term relationship problems and be perpetuated from generation to generation. Dr. Nicholas Groth, who has worked extensively with sexual offenders, reports that 60% of convicted sexual offenders have reported histories of sexual victimization.