“Darkness to Light” is a new initiative designed to teach parents and grandparents how to protect children from child sexual abuse.
Step 4 of the training is to stay alert and recognize the signs of child sexual abuse.
Sexually abused children may have physical signs of abuse, such as bleeding, bruising, redness, bumps, or scabs around the mouth, genitals, or anus, Prevent Child Abuse America reported in 2003. Other potential signs are sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections, and abnormal discharge.
But, physical signs are not common. Most sexually abused children show no physical signs of abuse.
Physical problems such as anxiety, chronic stomach aches or headaches may occur in child sexual abuse victims. Behavioral and emotional signs are more common. Some of these include unexplained anger, rebellion, depression, withdrawal, fear, or “too perfect” behavior.
Other signs include, nightmares, bedwetting, falling grades, cruelty to animals, bullying, being bullied, fire setting, running away and self-harm. Other red flags include sexual behavior and language that is not age appropriate. Alcohol and drug use at an early age can also be a sign.
“Trauma is often at the root of behavior in children that gets labeled at bad, oppositional, or defiant,” said Child Advocacy Center executive director Sharon De Boer. “Children are angry and act out for a reason. Many of those angry, rebellious children have been sexually abused. What happens to children when they act out is that they are labeled, punished, and we try to manage their inappropriate behavior.”
“When we see signs of distress in children,” De Boer said. “We need to reach out to that child and gently begin to ask questions and try to figure out what is going on with them. Signs of child sexual abuse do not always mean that sexual abuse has happened, but if we don’t ask the right questions we will never know.
“As parents, grandparents, and professionals we have to learn to ask the right questions, ‘What is happening that is making you angry? Is there something you need to talk to me about? Is someone hurting you?’”
To learn more about how to identify signs of sexual abuse in children, you can attend one of the Darkness to Light trainings in Rutherford or Cannon Counties. To find training near you, contact Ryan Wallace at the Child Advocacy Center of Rutherford County (615) 867-9000 or Amanda Pruitt at the Cannon County Child Advocacy Center (615) 563-9915.