Millions of children are sexually abused each year in the United States. In fact, 10 percent of adult men and 25 percent of adult females recall being sexually abused during their childhood, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Most sexual abuse victims are between the ages of 8 and 12, but younger children, including toddlers, are also victimized. Young children often do not report sexual abuse to a parent because they are ashamed or have been threatened not to tell. You may notice some changes in your child, however.
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A toddler who is being sexually abused may suddenly display personality characteristics not previously seen. For example, your child may seem anxious, insecure or depressed, according to New York University's Langone Medical Center. Confident children may also become clingy or withdrawn. Some sex abuse victims suffer from low self-esteem and may have trouble making friends their age.
A young child being sexually abused will often undergo behavior changes as a result of the abuse. Young children, in particular, are likely to begin acting in an age-inappropriate manner. For example, she may begin sucking her thumb or being wetting her pants or the bed even though she is already potty-trained, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Changes in sleep patterns are also possible, with toddlers having trouble falling asleep or having regular nightmares.
A toddler being sexually abused may also begin to display some sexual behaviors. For example, he may act out sexual acts with stuffed animals or other toys or may draw pictures of sexual acts, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Young children may also masturbate frequently or try to initiate sexual behavior with their friends or siblings.
A young sexual abuse victim may suddenly seem fearful of certain people or situations, including avoiding situations in which she will encounter her abuser. They may be afraid or getting undressed even at appropriate times, such as for bathing, or seem fearful of visiting the doctor or being examined by a health professional, according to Langone Medical Center. Some children also become fearful or going to the bathroom despite earlier success.
Physical signs rarely are noticed in cases of child sexual abuse, according to the Stop It Now! organization. Still, some possible indications of sexual abuse include vaginal or anal discharge; pain or itching in the genital region; frequent urinary tract infections or sore throats; pain while urinating or having a bowel movement; and redness, bleeding, or bruising in the genital or anal area. Some abuse victims also begin to complain of physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches.
- Child Welfare Information Gateway: Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect: Signs and Symptoms
- New York University Langone Medical Center: Child Sexual Abuse: Know the Warning Signs
- Stop It Now!: Warning Signs in Children and Adolescents of Possible Child Sexual Abuse
- New Mexico State University: Child Sexual Abuse: Recognizing Abuse and What To Do About It
- American Academy of Pediatrics HealthyChildren.org: Sexual Abuse