The signs of child abuse aren’t always obvious, and a child might not feel able to tell anyone what is happening to them.
Sometimes children don’t even realise that what’s happening to them is abuse; they may be being threatened or bribed by the abuser or they may care about the person who is abusing them and not want them to get into trouble. Sometimes the child may feel they are somehow to blame because the abuse felt nice. Signs that a child or young person is being sexually abused may include:
- a change in their behaviour; for example, becoming angry or unusually clingy
- sexually inappropriate behaviour
- problems at school, such as schoolwork deteriorating or not wanting to go or not wanting to come home, staying out until a “safe person” is home.
- the child being secretive. Children who are abused are often told to keep secrets or are made to feel the abuse is their fault
- soreness in the genital area or urinary tract infections, bed wetting or soiling.
- becoming more sensitive to noises, physical touch or other situations
- avoiding the abuser or becoming upset if they are mentioned.
- eating problems, including eating disorders such as anorexia or over- eating
- self- harm, including cutting, scratching, burning and further ways of physically hurting themselves in order to feel a different pain from the abuse. Young people sometimes describe this pain as a release from what is happening.
- running away
- dropping hints about the abuse
- drug and alcohol abuse.