Signs of child sexual abuse

Children who've been sexually abused may exhibit changes in emotions or behaviour, or display physical signs of sexual abuse. This may include:

  • knowing more about sexual activities than other children their age
  • playing in a sexual way
  • masturbating more than what's typical for their age and stage of development
  • refusing to undress for activities or wear additional layers of clothing
  • having bruising, bleeding, swelling, tears or cuts on their genitals or anus
  • having unusual vaginal odour or discharge
  • having itching or pain in the genital area, difficulty going to the toilet, walking or sitting
  • having a sexually transmitted disease or urinary tract infection
  • having torn, stained or bloody clothing, especially underwear
  • being afraid of being alone with a particular person or going to a particular place
  • becoming withdrawn, unusually reactive or begins displaying high risk behaviours (including substance misuse)
  • being frequently depressed, feel suicidal or attempt suicide
  • creating stories, poems or artwork about abuse.
  • Having problems sleeping or starts having nightmares
  • Starting to wet the bed or soil themselves.

Spotting signs of sexual abuse can be difficult and not all of these signs directly indicate abuse is occurring. The more signs are present, the more likely it is that the child could have been sexually abused. If a child shows any of these signs, you may need to act to keep them safe.