Signs Of Sexual Abuse

CICA UK – 10 Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is, unfortunately, a common crime, but not everybody who is a victim of it might realise this. You may be in an abusive relationship without knowing that what you experience is sexual abuse. Or you might notice unusual behaviour in a child without realising that it is a sign that the child is a victim of sexual abuse. It is important to be able to recognise warning signs of sexual abuse so that victims can get help and perpetrators can be held accountable.


The definition of sexual abuse is when a person forces sexual contact upon another person. If the abuse only occurs once, then it may be known as sexual assault. This is also referred to as rape, especially if the victim is incapable of consenting to sexual contact. If the victim is under the legal age of sexual consent, then it is child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse can also become sexual exploitation if more than one person sexually abuses the victim on a regular basis. There are many types of sexual abuse, which can include the following experiences:

  • Showing pornography to the victim
  • Deliberately exposing genitals to the victim
  • Engaging in sexual activity in front of the victim
  • Photographing the victim in sexual poses
  • Downloading or distributing images of sexual abuse
  • Watching the victim undress or go to the toilet
  • Inappropriate touching whether over or under clothes
  • Making the victim take their clothes off or masturbate
  • Encouraging the victim to play sexual games
  • Touching the victim’s genitals for sexual pleasure
  • Making the victim touch someone else’s genitals
  • Penetrative sex (putting objects or body parts inside the victim’s mouth/vagina/anus)

If you were the victim in any of these situations, then you should report this to the police as a crime. The person committing sexual abuse could be anyone from a family member to a friend or someone in a position of authority over you, such as a teacher. Once you have a crime reference number, you can consider claiming sexual abuse compensation to help with the costs of living and receiving treatment while you are recovering from sexual abuse.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can occur as part of domestic abuse in a family or romantic relationship. It involves the abuser using physical force, intimidation, or threats to coerce the victim into performing sexual acts that they do not want to participate in. The list below shows 10 of the most common signs of sexual abuse in adults or teens so that you are able to recognise it.

  1. Depression/Anxiety
  2. Self-harming
  3. Low self-esteem
  4. Failing in school or work
  5. Withdrawal from activities
  6. Avoiding specific places/people/situations
  7. Increase in use of drugs/alcohol
  8. Sexually-transmitted infections/Pregnancy
  9. Mentions of a partner controlling them or pressuring them
  10. Visible signs of physical violence (bruises, bite marks, blood, difficulty walking/sitting/swallowing)

Some of these warning signs are the result of stress and can occur in other situations, such as during significant life changes. If they are combined with some of the more physical signs of sexual violence, then it is more likely that the person is definitely a victim of sexual abuse.

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

Sadly, young children are frequent targets of sexual abuse because children are easier for adults to manipulate. Young children are naive and generally trusting, and abusive people can take advantage of this. Even when children are upset about what is happening to them, they may not be able to verbalise their experiences to someone else. Abusers will convince children that they must keep what happens between them a secret, or keep them quiet with gifts. There are many worrying signs of sexual abuse in children, which include the following:

  • Regressive behaviours such as bedwetting
  • Becoming withdrawn or very clingy
  • Sudden personality changes
  • Mood swings or angry outbursts
  • Changes in eating habits
  • The presence of unexplained gifts
  • Problems at school
  • Running away
  • Avoiding undressing
  • Unaccountable fear of a place or person
  • Sleeping problems and nightmares
  • Acting inappropriately with toys/objects/pets/others
  • Signs of physical trauma to the genitals or mouth

If you suspect that a child is being sexually abused, report this to the police and to the local authority’s child social services team. Children should not be afraid to tell adults about the abuse they’ve suffered, and adults spending time around children should be aware of safeguarding.

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