Sexual Abuse

Identifying sexual abuse—key considerations.

Most cases of sexual abuse do not present apparent physical indicators, and so identification can be quite difficult. In addition, many child victims of sexual abuse are extremely reluctant to report abuse, even to a very trusted adult or friend, for legitimate fear of retribution and/or worse abuse. To further complicate these concerns, it is true that the vast majority of perpetrators are family members or friends of the child and his or her family, making disclosure of the abuse very difficult for the child. Victims of sexual abuse often experience the fear of betraying a loved one, and possibly losing their affections if they report. They also fear the overwhelming anticipated shame and guilt that it is thought disclosure will cause, and fear being themselves blamed for the abuse.

While research suggests that few victims fabricate incidents of child sexual abuse, it is true that children may retract the disclosure as they experience pressure from family and/or friends. Many of them then choose to continue to live in devastating isolation with their secret. Most perpetrators of child sexual abuse know their victims well, as they are often trusted family members who have easy access to the child. It is not a unique problem of a certain class, race or geographic area. There is no clear and distinct typical profile of a child molester, or victim of sexual abuse. Do not make assumptions based on social position or reputation that someone might not be a child molester.

In NY State a child under the age of 17 cannot consent to any sexual activity. If a minor child is engaging in sexual activity with a much older child, or an adult, it is considered sexual abuse and should be reported to the SCR. If a caregiver knows about the sexual activity and doesn’t try to stop it, or allows the activity through their inadequate guardianship, this should be reported to the SCR as well. If the abuse is being perpetrated by someone not responsible for the care of the child, such as a coach, teacher, neighbor or babysitter, this may be reported to law enforcement as well through a law enforcement referral through the SCR, or by calling the police directly.


Physical Indicators of Sexual Abuse

  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Pain, itching, bruises or bleeding in genital or anal area
  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
  • Bruises to the hard or soft palate
  • Presence of sexually transmitted diseases
  • Pregnancy, especially in early adolescent years
  • Painful discharge of urine and/or repeated urinary infections
  • Foreign bodies in vagina or rectum

Child Behavioral Indicators of Sexual Abuse

  • Unwilling to change for gym or participate in gym class
  • Withdrawal, fantasy or infantile behavior
  • Bizarre, sophisticated or unusual sexual behavior or knowledge
  • Seductive or promiscuous behavior
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Delinquency
  • Reports assault by caretaker
  • Runaway behavior
  • Prostitution
  • Forcing sexual acts on other children
  • Extreme fear of closeness or being physically touched
  • Truancy
  • Manifestations of low self-esteem, general fearfulness
  • Regressive behaviors such as bed wetting, rocking, thumb sucking or acting much younger than their age.
  • Self-injurious behaviors, including suicide attempts
Adapted from: Identifying and Reporting Child Abuse and Maltreatment/Neglect: Mandated Reporter Trainer’s Resource Guide. New York State Office of Children and Family Services: CDHS/Research Foundation of SUNY/BSC (2009).
 
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