Signs of Sexual Abuse in Young Children

The idea of anyone bringing harm to a young child is heart-wrenching for parents everywhere. But the reality is that child molesters do target younger children, including infants and toddlers. Sometimes the abuse is ongoing and since the child cannot speak, it continues until they are older making disclosure more and more rare as, to the child, it has become an accepted part of life.

While discovering sexual abuse in a child who has yet to reach speaking age can be difficult, it is not impossible. These children often show signs of the abuse even if they cannot vocalize what is occurring. If you notice any of the following signs, especially if it is more than one, than it may be possible that your young child is being molested.

Yeast or Staph Infections. There are a few reasons why a diaper-wearing infant or toddler may have frequent yeast or staph infections and so it should never go unexamined. But young females who are being molested are at great risk of these infections. If your child has been left alone with someone (even if you do not think they have molested your child) and develops a yeast infection, bring them to the pediatrician immediately. Let them know you have a concern that the infection was brought about by physical touch and have them examine the child.

There may not be any initial evidence or signs of trauma but if the infections continue, it is very important to have a thorough exam. Yeast and staph infections should never be overlooked or taken lightly as they can be an important sign of something wrong.

Clenching or cringing during diaper changes. Since most babies wear diapers from birth, the act of having their diaper changed is second nature to them and so there should be no reason for distress. If your child tends to clench their legs tightly together or cringe from a gentle touch of a baby wipe, this could be an important sign of previous trauma. While some children do not like diaper changes, especially toddlers, and try to squirm or run, there still should be no reason for clenching or cringing from fear.

If your child has had a recent diaper rash or infection, this may cause temporary cringing so do not panic if it happens once or twice. But if each diaper change seems to bring about discomfort or fear for your child, this may be a key sign of sexual abuse.

Tantrums or acting out. Not all children who are being abused will have a drastic change in behavior, especially if it has been a part of their lives since infancy. However, in most cases the abuse is still paired with threats, emotional abuse and even physical pain, causing the child to act out if they know they are about to be subjected to it.

If your child is having temper tantrums, acting out, excessively crying, or trying to run away from a situation, do not overlook it as normal behavior for a toddler. Instead, look for patterns. Do these behaviors come about in a specific location like a bedroom, bathroom or someone else’s home? Do they often act up around a certain person, relative or babysitter? Do key words, actions or events trigger strong responses?

Try to listen closely to your child’s protests or behaviors. If you see patterns, then something, even if it is not related to sexual abuse, needs to be addressed. Punishing your child for expressing their emotions will only cause them to stop communicating which will cause many more problems in the future.

Low self-esteem or unwillingness to try. From the moment a child is born they are learning and trying out new behaviors. Infants search for body parts, babies attempt to mobilize and toddlers start building, creating and even talking. They are able to learn and practice these new skills when they feel safe. If they feel fearful, the parts of the brain that allow for this growth are stunted by the amygdala (emotion-driven part of the brain) causing this learning to cease.

Young children who are being molested are often overtaken by their amygdala due to the physical and emotional traumas. In these cases, they can be further behind physically and mentally. In infants, this could come across as limited development while in toddlers, they may begin to show signs of poor self-esteem and unwillingness to try new things. Hopelessness and negativity may become common in their day to day lives, inhibiting their development.

If you suspect your child is not developing properly and is showing no signs of improvement, as in the case of behavior changes, look for patterns. Does their behavior change when in a certain place? Are they less likely to try new things or even pursue tasks they used to enjoy when around a specific person?

Low self-esteem is always a sign of something wrong, so do not dismiss it as a personality trait. Be sure to have your child checked out to rule out different possibilities.

Your intuition. Odds are you are reading this article because you suspect something may be wrong with your child. Perhaps you already have a potential perpetrator in mind. That intuition should never be ignored. You have those feelings for a reason. Considering the idea that your child is being harmed by someone close to you is a frightening thought that may be easier to brush off than to address. Fears of false accusations, tearing families apart or making poor choices are overwhelming enough to cause you to ignore obvious signs that you may regret later.

If you have any of these feelings, then something is going on. Fear of harm to your children is normal, but if it has sent you looking for these signs to validate what you are feeling, then it goes beyond just a fear. Any damage done through a potential false accusation is nothing compared to the damage that would be done if you ignore the truth.

Each of these signs can be explained by events other than child abuse, but when several signs are present paired with your parental intuition, then they need to be addressed immediately. If these signs sound familiar and your intuition is strongly pulling at your heart, it is time to take action to protect your children. Contact your pediatrician or Child Protective Services immediately.

Trust yourself. Trust your child’s behaviors. It will be the most important thing you ever do for your child.

For more information on possible signs of sexual abuse, please visit Mothers of Sexually Abused Children and for information on how to help keep your children safe, please visit Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse.