Detailed List of Indicators of Possible Child Sexual Abuse


This page contains material from multiple sources.  As a result, some repetition will be seen.


SOURCE: The book ‘Preying on our Children’

Indicators of possible sexual abuse [of a child] include: 

·• Sudden reluctance to go someplace or be with someone;

·• Inappropriate displays of affection;

·• Sexual acting out;

·• Sudden use of sexual terms or new names for body parts;

·• Discomfort with, or rejection of, typical family affection;

·• Sleep problems: insomnia, nightmares, refusal to sleep alone, bed-wetting, infantile behaviors;

·• Extreme clinging or other signs of fearfulness;

·• A sudden change in personality

[Source: Coalition for Children Inc., as cited in William Finn Bennett, ‘Child sex abuse reaches far beyond Catholic Church, experts say’, The Californian.]

To this summary of indicators I would add: eating disorders, reduced coordination, reduced confidence, reduced self-worth, and a general diminution of focus on life and goal-setting.


SOURCE: Barbara Chester, “Recognizing the Symptoms and Consequences of Sexual Assault and Abuse”

Reactions to trauma will differ according to many things, including the nature of the assault, age, and life experiences of the victim, as well as upon the victim’s relationship to the perpetrator (for instance, stranger, family member, boss, coworker, acquaintance). [Thus, although a set of indicators of abuse can be collated, some victims will display a very different set of indicators from other victims.  Certain survivors may only exhibit a couple of indicators.]

[Indicators of abuse vary with age, so symptoms in adolescents and adults are presented in groups of their own below.]


• physical trauma to genital area

• venereal disease

• fear of a particular adult

• withdrawal

• clinging behavior

• refusal to leave home or unwillingness to return home (in cases of incest)

• eating disorders, including loss of appetite, compulsive eating, or food


• change in sleep patterns

• nightmares

• bed wetting and encopresis (night soiling)

• excessive masturbation

• regression

• frequent genital infections

• agitation

• hyperactivity

• unexplained gagging

• sexually suggestive behavior or explicit knowledge or sexual acts beyond the

developmental stage of the child

• somatic complaints such as nausea and vomiting


• depression

• somatic complaints such as severe headaches, infections, muscle camping and dizziness

• eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia

• fear of pregnancy

• overly seductive or attention-getting behaviour

• multiple runaway

• overly restricted by parents or heavy household responsibilities (in cases of incest)

• withdrawal and isolation

• suicide attempts

• self-mutilation such as cutting, burning, or tattooing the self

• chemical abuse

• truancy

• drop in academic performance

• poor self-image as evidenced by dress, lack of cleanliness and grooming

• prostitution



Because many victims of childhood abuse reach adulthood without healing interventions, they too may exhibit various behavior patterns and symptoms, which may include:

• a history of abusive relationships

• multiple hospitalizations (physical and/or mental)

• chronic depression

• complete repression of entire portions of earlier life

• amnesia

• homicidal or suicidal tendencies

• multiple personality disorder

• a pattern of multiple victimizations

• compulsive and/or eating disorders

• self-mutilation


[Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, e.g. unusually high standards of cleanliness, may be present. To the above list for adults I would add “guilt, self-blame, shame, fear, anxiety, poor self-image and nightmares” [Source: B. Chester].  I would also add: an unusually large number of hang-ups regarding natural sexual activity.  Fear and anxiety may produce phobic symptoms - such as agoraphobia.]

Victims of sexual abuse may be first encountered by the criminal justice system, the social service or mental health system, by schools or medical professionals. They may come to the attention of the criminal authorities for running away, for status offenses, shoplifting, chemical dependency, burglary or auto theft, or for rage acted out in homicide, sex offenses, or other violent crimes. In social service or mental health agencies, professionals may see regression, low self-esteem, eating disorders, multiple victimization, depression, self-mutilation, suicide. In the educational system, victims may surface for truancy, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, behavior problems, a drop in academic performance. Medical and public health practitioners may see children with various physical disorders including stomach problems, rashes, or venereal disease. Treating these effects without treating their causes is rarely effective.


PLEASE NOTE: Some of the indicators on this page can also be the result of non-sexual types of trauma (e.g. serious physical or psychological abuse).  Wisdom, prayer and commonsense are needed when determining the true cause(s) of some of the above symptoms.