Hesperian Health Guides
How can I know if my child has been abused?
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When young children are abused, they may be afraid to tell you because the abuser warns the child not to say anything or because the child fears she did something wrong. Or a child may lack the communication skills to say what happened.
Since children do not always tell about abuse, you need to watch for possible signs. The following signs are not always the result of abuse, but they should cause concern, especially if a child shows several.
Some physical signs include:
- unexplained pain, swelling, or bleeding of the mouth, genitals or around the anus area
- torn or bloody underwear
- difficulty passing urine or stool
- sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- headaches or stomach aches
Sexually abused children may:
- stop bathing, or wash themselves more often than usual
- play in a sexual way with other children or with toys
- know more about sex than other children their age
Children who have been victims of violence, including sexual abuse, may:
- seem very fearful, sensitive and watchful, or suddenly avoid or become afraid of certain people or places
- want to be with their parents all the time
- be secretive or prefer to be alone most of the time
- start acting in a younger, more baby-like way
- try to run away from home
- feel sad most of the time or show no feelings at all
- have difficulty sleeping because of bad dreams and fears of the dark