Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of child abuse are not always obvious especially in cases of child sexual abuse. Often children have been threatened or confused by their abuser not to disclose the abuse. The guidelines listed below are general signs and symptoms and if you notice these in your child you should ask them if anything has happened.

New Fears
An abused child or teenager may develop new fears of situations, places, or people. They may become excessively shy, anxious, scared or withdrawn.

If a child or teen is not allowed or able to express anger towards the abuser, they may take their anger out on others or against themselves.

Inappropriate Sexual Behaviors
A child may act out sexually. They may show an unusual interest in other people's or animal’s genitals, or masturbate excessively. They may try to express affection in an inappropriate way, such as fondling private parts. Teens may participate in risky sexual behavior and make inappropriate advances in public.

Sleeping and Eating Problems
A child or teen may have problems sleeping, nightmares, sudden loss or gain in appetite. Children may regress in their development. A child might return to younger, more babyish behavior such as wetting the bed or thumb sucking.

School Problems
A child or teen may have difficulty concentrating which can affect school performance. A change in grades or behavior at school is not uncommon.

Loss of Boundaries
A child or teen may be overly friendly and attached to total strangers, they may tolerate abuse from other children, they may become excessively isolated and withdrawn, or they may become overly obedient.

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 sufficent clothing for 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. 

Self-Destructive Acts
A child or teen may feel such guilt and shame from the abuse that they may take their feelings out by hurting themselves. This may involve hitting or cutting themselves, using drugs and/or alcohol or even a suicide attempt. As teens that were abused as children mature, it is common for issues of abuse to resurface requiring additional or new services.

Unexplained Injuries
Visible signs physical abuse may include unexplained burns or bruises in the shape of objects. You may also hear unconvincing explanations of a child's injuries.

Returning to Earlier Behavior
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.