Behavioral and Emotional Signs and Symptoms of Sexual Abuse

The effects of sexual abuse are extensive. Gordon B. Hinckley stated that sexual abuse “does the most serious kind of injury.

By understanding the effects of sexual abuse, you can see how it has affected your life. For me, that was a hugely eye-opening experience. I could see how the abuse changed how I Behavioral and Emotional Signs and Symptoms of Sexual Abuse.jpgthink, feel, and act; how I built walls in relationships to “protect” myself.

Whether you or someone you know has been abused, or if you suspect past or current abuse, these signs and symptoms are important to know to watch for, especially in your own children.

This is found at Stop It Now!:

Behavior you may see in a child or adolescent

  • Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
  • Seems distracted or distant at odd times
  • Has a sudden change in eating habits
    • Refuses to eat
    • Loses or drastically increases appetite
    •  Has trouble swallowing.
  • Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
  • Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
  • Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images
  • Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places
  • Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
  • Talks about a new older friend
  • Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason
  • Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad
  • Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge

Signs more typical of younger children

  • An older child behaving like a younger child (such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking)
  • Has new words for private body parts
  • Resists removing clothes when appropriate times (bath, bed, toileting, diapering)
  • Asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games
  • Mimics adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animal
  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

Signs more typical in adolescents

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

Other things to watch for or be aware of are the thoughts and feelings victims of sexual abuse may experience.

For instance, children may (adapted from a handout from LDS Family Services):

  • Feel unloved
  • Think they are a bad person
  • Think the abuse is their fault or blame self
  • Think there’s something wrong with them
  • Think God doesn’t love them
  • Think their parents don’t love them

Teenagers may:

  • Struggle with sense of identity
  • Be angry toward self and others
  • Think there’s something wrong with them
  • Wonder why the abuse happened/why no one believes them
  • Wish they could be like other kids

Adults may (in addition to the aforementioned): 

  • Feel guilt about everything they’ve ever done, that’s been done to them, or that they’ve even thought about
  • Have difficulty separating what he/she has done from what has been done to him/her
  • Have fear of men/lack of trust in women
  • Be frustrated or uncertain about the future/goals
  • Have depression
  • Not trust their own judgment
  • Believe the world would be better off  without them (suicidal/self-harm)
  • Feel like they can’t keep up with everyone else
  • Feel like everyone can see right through them

This list is not all-inclusive. Since we’re all unique, we may experience other signs and symptoms, though many will likely be similar.

Realizing how the abuse has affected you, or someone close to you, can play a major role in your/their healing. It’s important to understand the effects. Just like a doctor examines the body when you’re sick to decipher how best to treat the illness, so must we decide how best to treat ourselves so we can understand why we’re thinking, feeling, and behaving in a certain way (I often logically know I’m acting ridiculous, but my emotions are so intense I can’t just shrug it off). Once we know the root of the problem, we can begin to heal.

***Please note, if you suspect abuse of a child or yourself, please, seek professional help. Don’t wait. Where appropriate, contact law enforcement.***




3 thoughts on “Behavioral and Emotional Signs and Symptoms of Sexual Abuse

  1. Pingback: My Story: A Survivor’s Aunt’s Perspective | Finding Hope and Healing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s