5 warning signs of child sexual abuse

Parents and guardians in Pennsylvania should know the signs of child sexual abuse as well as what to do if they suspect abuse is taking place.

It goes without saying that child sexual abuse happens at an alarming rate. Getting an accurate picture of how many minors in Pennsylvania are affected by such atrocities is difficult, as many incidents go unreported. However, as the National Center for Victims of Crime states, it is believed that one in 20 boys and as many as one in five girls experience it.

One of the ways to correct the problem is to be able to catch the warning signs that it is happening. Below are five red flags that could indicate that a little one is suffering sexual abuse:

1. Eating habits change

A change in the amount a child is eating could signify a number of things. Illness certainly can cause a change in appetite. However, emotional turmoil often results in one of two extremes: binge eating or avoiding food entirely. When the change is significant, it should alert parents or guardians that something is amiss.

2. Demonstrating adult-like behavior

Children who have experienced sexual abuse may suddenly start conducting themselves in a manner much more advanced than their age. These behaviors are typically negatives: such as cursing, knowledge of sexual activity or acting out sexually.

3. Has trouble sleeping

Abuse may lead to nightmares. Other sleep problems may arise, such as bed-wetting well after being potty trained or a general difficulty sleeping. Children may describe dreams that involve sexual activity or frightening images.

4. Discusses a new "friend"

Young children especially may not recognize that what is happening is wrong. Instead, they may talk freely about a new older "friend" they have made at school or church. The new person in the child's life may be gifting the child with money or toys, as predators often do this to win a child's trust or in exchange for their discretion.

5. Sudden negative self-image

Many victims of abuse start thinking of themselves as dirty or repulsive. They may begin to show symptoms of hating their body or feeling worthless. The child may seem distant or withdrawn.

Each of these is a clue that something could be wrong with a child. While it may not always mean abuse is happening, it should trigger an adult to look further into the issue. Whether a child acknowledges abuse is happening or not, parents and guardians who suspect it is happening should seek help immediately.

The U.S. Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Public Website recommends calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline to report the issue. Seeking medical attention for any injuries is also important.

These situations are difficult on many levels and for a number of reasons. People who have concerns about this topic should speak with a sexual abuse attorney in Pennsylvania.