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We are living in 2024, and we are still looking for the signs of sexual abuse. Talking about abuse is still considered a taboo, which is the reason why people hide their bruises. If someone is going through abuse, and if we suspect it; why cannot we comfort? Why do we look for the signs of sexual abuse?

Well, sexual abuse is something that demands constant awareness. If an individual is going through sexual abuse, they must have the confidence to call out and get support. The majority of the victims, especially children, are never able to self-disclose because either they have trust issues or they are not aware of their sensitivity. However, many adult survivors also delay the disclosure of their abuse for years. The longer the abused child remains undiscovered the greater the possibility of mental health issues. Early detection and intervention help the abused individual to talk about it.

The fear of being judged, blamed, or disbelieved, or thoughts that maybe they are at fault prevents the individual from disclosing their abuse. Sexual abuse in a relationship is also quite common, but the abused person does not disclose and remains in the relationship; as they are afraid of the abuser and also the society. In this article, we will explore more about the signs of sexual abuse and how you can help someone suffering through this situation.

What are the indicators of sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse is not just limited to the sexual act, but sexual abuse connects with other forms of abuse as well. The physical signs are usually visible, maybe mild or severe; but they are present on the body of the abused. However, other indicators correlate with sexual abuse. Behavioral indicators are present, but not always; here it is important to note the behavior if anything abnormal is suspected.

When it comes to children, the injuries and marks are often confused as a result of regular play and activities. The bruises on knees, shins, and elbows can be a result of playing outdoors; but when there are injuries and a combination of abnormal behavior—this is alarming. Below are physical and behavioral symptoms of child abuse and neglect.

Physical Abuse:

Injuries, marks, bruises, etc.; can occur normally during playing or running. However, physical abuse must be suspected if the explanations are not unrealistic and do not fit in a situation. Well, here it is important to note the pattern and the occurrence of the marks. If there are handprints or marks on a belt, sucked bruises, it may be a sign of sexual abuse. Bruises, lacerations, swelling in the private areas, and marks on the chest, genital areas, buttocks, or thighs; are not normal. Moreover, marks like some human bitten, burns, or hair fall can also indicate sexual abuse. Injuries combined with the behavior or signals that something is wrong. The abused individuals either display aggressive behavior or simply withdraw from everything. The postures also show; such as uncomfortable movement, wearing layers of clothes, and discomfort with physical contact. Below are some of the common signs of physical abuse.

  • Constant itching in genital areas
  • Pain in private areas
  • Nightmares or insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Blood on the innerwear’s

Emotional Abuse:

The signs of emotional abuse are difficult to detect in children. Because children often just confine themselves in their shells. The hidden scars are visible but emotionally it is hard to understand. However, there are ways to analyze such as insecurity, poor self-esteem, destructive behavior, aggressive behaviors, animal cruelty, withdrawal, poor development skills, drug abuse, suicidal attempts, and unusual movements also are indicators of emotional abuse. Such children grow up differently, and the majority of them blame themselves for what happened to them. Not to mention, when they are at a stage of forming a relationship; they find it extremely difficult to have an intimate relationship.

  • Mood swings
  • Extreme anger, rage, or withdrawal issues
  • Lack of confidence

Sexual Abuse and Behavior:

The physical signs of child sexual abuse can be easily noticed. At times, irritation as well as discomfort in genital areas or even there is a problem with sitting down or walking around and also having blood in the vaginal case while peeing might be an issue for boys. As a result of being abused, some children develop venereal disease. Moreover, children sexually abused could produce age-related behavioral changes. The signs of sexual abuse in boys can be detected by the way they use the washroom. From the age of two years to nine years, they may develop a phobia of meeting people, and not going to certain places or activities.

Regressive behavior such as bedwetting once more and stranger fear, victimization of others, and too much masturbating business which is having a lot of sexual attachment with oneself like rubbing one’s private parts nonstop almost every given day.  Symptoms of sex abuse in older youth and adolescents are depression, nightmares or sleep problems, bad school grades, and behavior; promiscuity, and drug addiction as a manifestation of dissatisfaction with family life (not necessarily leading to alcoholism).

  • Increase in nagging
  • Fear of going to a certain place
  • Regression, bedwetting, or thumb sucking
  • Abnormal interest in sex
  • Curiosity to know about sexual activities
  • Masturbation or rubbing of the private parts
  • Using sexual language
  • Refusing to make eye contact


Children who are victims of sexual abuse or neglect are unhappy, they are victims of poor emotional and social support; and feel isolated. The behaviors are extremely stressful and lead to turmoil, distress, and confusion. Their developments are also delayed, and they grow up to be extremely problematic; their attachments with their parents are also abnormal.

What is Covert Sexual Abuse?

Covert sexual abuse comes under one of the forms of sexual abuse. Now it is a bit complicated to understand; one cannot just understand the signs of covert sexual abuse; because it is not visible and it is solely between the abuser and the victim. It does not involve sexual acts or touching; it is more like an intention to gain sexual satisfaction without sexual involvement. It is sexual abuse through actions or words.

For example: the covert sexual abuser can take your photographs without you asking, stalk you on social media, and sending explicit messages and pictures. Covert sexual abuse is also referred to as covert incest or emotional incest. In addition to this, it is also difficult for the family members to understand and for the victim to explain this type of sexual abuse.

Examples of Covert Sexual Abuse:

Below are some common examples of covert sexual abuse.

  • Adults engage in sexual dialogue with teens or kids whether that means, asking them questions regarding their current boyfriend/girlfriend, another partner, etc, or giving out too much information about one’s sexual escapades.
  • When adults tell children about their emotions or traumatic experiences in life, making the child look like a therapist to them.
  • Insistence on parents to bathe, wipe, or change their child even though the child is old enough to do these things by themselves.
  • A parent screaming and sharing their marital issues, sexual escapades, monetary concerns, or occupational tribulations with his child.
  • A parent who frequently tells their child something along the lines of: “You’re the center of my universe and you complete me. “All I want is you, and no one else.”
  • Parents who viciously berate each other in the presence of their kids, and try to get them “on their side.
  • Parents who give such gifts to their kids as romantic cards with love notes or otherwise concealed emotional value.
  • A parent who does everything with their child, making them feel like they can’t survive without the parent for fear of “abandoning” them or being hurt.

Wrapping up:

Sexual abuse can happen anywhere, anytime, and to anyone. The signs of sexual abuse are sometimes visible and at times it is difficult to understand. If you know someone suffering from such a situation, make sure to give them support, and listen to them without judging. There are different forms of abuse connected with sexual abuse such as emotional, covert, physical, financial, etc. Not to mention, sexual abuse is also common in relationships; it is important to call out the abuser without thinking of being judged.

Lisa Clontz

Author Lisa Clontz

Lisa Clontz is an experienced Executive Director at Shelter Home of Caldwell County, specializing in providing shelter and support services to victims of domestic violence, child support, rape, and sexual assault. With her years of expertise, Lisa passionately assists women and children, helping them access the necessary resources and care they need. Her unwavering commitment to creating a safe environment and empowering survivors has made her an invaluable advocate in the community.

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