5. Indicators

Now that you know that there are many possibilities of finding a child like Helena in your class, it is essential to identify the signs of child sexual abuse.

The truth is that there is no single symptom nor pattern of symptoms which is definitively associated with child sexual abuse, rather there is a range of emotional and social, cognitive, behavioural and functional indicators which can occur in isolation or together, and there can even be a total absence of indicators. The differences in symptomatology can be related to a variety of factors such as the severity, frequency and duration of the abuse, the relationship with the abuser, individual characteristics of the victim, the reaction of the family, and the resources within their social network.

One of the most frequent indicators of child sexual victimisation in children is a sudden and apparently inexplicable change in their behaviour. However, as sexual abuse is often considered unlikely, this change often goes unnoticed. For instance, a great student who suddenly starts failing all of their assignments or a girl like Helena who isolates herself and does not bond with her peers.

In other cases, there are no sudden changes in behaviour, but there are several indicators that tell us that there has been a traumatic experience in the life of that child or adolescent.

The indicators which can be observed in children and adolescent victims of sexual abuse can include:

(Important: None of these symptoms are indicators by themself, nor do we wait to find them all in order to act. Symptoms should be carefully evaluated and considered. Remember: there is no such thing as a “diagnosis” of child sexual abuse).

In the case of Helena we can observe some distinctive effects of childhood sexual abuse. Can you name the indicators or signs that Helena is a victim of child sexual abuse?

Helena does not eat and complains about a tummy ache.

If you want to check other examples you can click on the images below. Please be aware that some of the content is sensitive in nature.

Drawings: In this webpage there are some drawings by children who have experienced sexual victimization.

Games: In the minute 2:09 of this cut from the movie “Don’t be Afraid” (original title: “No tengas miedo” (Montxo Armendáris, 2010) you can see a scene where the girl shows in her play, a sexual victimization experience. However, consider that the games are a way for children to express themselves and not all sexual abuse victims display sexualised or violent games. On the other hand, not every child that plays like this is a victim of sexual abuse but it is just another sign you should take into account.