People of all ages may be victims of sexual abuse, but children and elderly adults are two populations that are especially vulnerable. It is important for parents and the caretakers of older adults to understand the signs that a child or elderly adult is being sexually abused. It is also important for people to know what to do when they see the signs that abuse may be occurring.
Signs that a child is being sexually abused
According to the Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender Public Website, behavioral indicators of sexual abuse may vary significantly from one person to the next, and the presence of a single sign does not necessarily mean that a person has been sexually abused. However, if you see several signs, you should seek help.
Children may hide the fact that they are suffering from sexual abuse because they are afraid of what the abusers might do if they tell. They may show signs that they are being abused, however. Some indicators that a child may be the victim of sexual abuse include the following:
- Having frequent nightmares
- Refusing to eat or other sudden changes in their eating habits
- Sudden changes in mood
- Sexual knowledge or behavior that is too advanced for their ages
- Refusing to talk about a secret that the children share with older children or adults
- Unusual fears of certain people or places
- Unexplained gifts, toys or money
- Talks about their bodies as if they are repulsive or dirty
If you suspect that a child has been the victim of sexual abuse, it is important for you not to wait until you have proof. You also should not question the child by yourself. Children are impressionable, and the manner in which the questions are asked is important for uncovering abuse that has occurred. If you suspect abuse, you should contact your local child protection agency. If your child reports sexual abuse to you, call 911. If the child protection agency or the police believe that your child has been sexually abused, they will take your child to a child advocacy center to be interviewed. Child advocacy centers are staffed with professionals who have special training in eliciting information about abuse from children without causing additional trauma to the child.
Signs that an adolescent has been the victim of sexual abuse
Adolescents may show the signs that children do that they are suffering from sexual abuse. They may also have several indicators that are unique to their age group, including the following signs:
- Poor hygiene
- Sexual promiscuity
- Injuring self by cutting or burning
- Depression and anxiety
- Suicide attempts
- Substance abuse
- Eating disorders
- Running away
- Fear of closeness
If your teen is showing these possible signs of sexual abuse, talk to them in a nonjudgmental way. If he or she reveals that he or she has been abused, report it. You should let your teen know that you are making the report and that the abuse is not your teen’s fault. You can report the sexual abuse to your local child protection agency and the police.
Signs that an elderly adult is being sexually abused
Unfortunately, elderly people are sometimes the victims of sexual abuse. Elderly people in nursing homes and elsewhere may be targeted by predators because they are more vulnerable. Elderly people may have medical conditions that make it difficult for them to report that they are victims of sexual abuse. They may be abused by caretakers or other residents in nursing homes, and some may be sexually abused by family members. Some of the signs that an elderly person is the victim of sexual abuse include the following:
- Pelvic injuries
- Diagnosis of sexually transmitted diseases
- Difficulty sitting or walking
- Bleeding from the genitals or anus
- Bloody, torn underwear
- Aggressive behaviors
- Sudden fear of specific people
- Having panic attacks
- Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
If you suspect that your elderly loved one is being sexually abused, you should immediately report your suspicions by calling 911 and the adult protective services agency in your area. If your loved one is being sexually abused in a nursing home, you should move him or her to a safe place immediately.
Getting legal help
If you learn that your child or an elderly or disabled loved one has been sexually abused, getting legal help is important. An attorney may help you to protect your loved one while trying to hold the abuser and other responsible parties accountable for their wrongful actions.
Dealing with sexual abuse is difficult, and the process of recovery may take a long time. The first step is to recognize the signs of sexual abuse. If you see indicators that your child or elderly loved one has been abused, getting help is very important and could help to save their lives. GJEL is now taking on USC Sexual Abuse Cases.