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It can be a parent’s worst nightmare – discovering that your child has been a victim of sexual abuse. Few things can strike a family with such devastation, and potentially long-lasting ramifications.

And there are so many instances in which the child’s parents are the last to know. It’s not hard to understand that a young person who is subjected to sexual abuse will be confused, scared and ashamed, and intimidated into not telling anyone for fear of what may happen.

Leading child advocacy experts point out that there are certain signs your child may demonstrate that could signal trouble. Here are a few potential warning signs to watch for:

  • Sudden changes in eating habits; loss of appetite
  • Unexplained injuries like cuts, scrapes, bruises, bleeding or soreness in the genital area
  • Nightmares and trouble sleeping; night sweats or tremors
  • Sudden regression toward more infantile behaviors, like thumb sucking or wetting the bed
  • Reluctance to be near or be alone with a person with who they were once comfortable
  • Increased inquisitiveness about sexual topics
  • Expressions of inappropriate affection

In some instances of sexual abuse of a child, the perpetrator will have threatened the child with some serious consequences if they ever tell an adult. The victim then has to struggle with the shame and embarrassment of being abused, along with the guilt of what may happen to themselves or a family member if they tell someone about what they are going through.

The sexual victimization of a child can happen in a wide variety of circumstances. Public or private schools, private tutors, church activities, after-school programs, youth sports teams, summer camps or any number of other situations involving children are unfortunately ideal scenarios for a sexual predator to find his or her next victim.

If you have any suspicions about your child being the victim of sexual abuse, watch for the signs. Do everything you can to maintain an open dialog with your children, fostering an atmosphere of trust and making sure they know that they can always talk openly to you about what’s happening in their lives, no matter how dark and scary it may be.
For more information on child sexual abuse and what you can do to prevent it, here are some valuable resources: