Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of child abuse are not always obvious, especially in cases of child sexual abuse. Often children have been threatened or confused by their abuser not to disclose the abuse. The guidelines listed below are general signs and symptoms and if you notice these in your child, you should ask them if anything has happened. Please note the following are signs commonly associated with abuse, but they are not absolutes. This list is not a checklist but a guide to help identify abuse when it is present.
- Unexplained injuries. Visible signs of physical abuse may include unexplained burns or bruises in the shape of objects. You may also hear unconvincing explanations of a child’s injuries.
- Change in behavior. Abuse can lead to many changes in a child’s behavior. Abused children often appear scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn or more aggressive.
- Returning to early behaviors. Abused children may display behaviors shown at earlier ages, such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark, or strangers. For some children, even loss of acquired language or memory problems may be an issue.
- Fear of going home. Abused children may express apprehension or anxiety about leaving school or about going places with the person who is abusing them.
- Changes in eating. The stress, fear, and anxiety caused by abuse can lead to changes in a child’s eating behaviors, which may result in weight gain or weight loss.
- Changes in sleeping. Abused children may have frequent nightmares or have difficulty falling asleep, and as a result may appear tired or fatigued.
- Changes in school performance and attendance. Abused children may have difficulty concentrating in school or have excessive absences, sometimes due to adults trying to hide the children’s injuries from authorities.
- Lack of personal care or hygiene. Abused and neglected children may appear uncared for. They may present as consistently dirty and have severe body odor, or they may lack sufficient clothing for the weather.
- Risk-taking behavior. Young people who are being abused may engage in high-risk activities such as using drugs or alcohol or carrying a weapon.
- Inappropriate sexual behaviors. Children who have been sexually abused may exhibit overly sexualized behavior or use explicit sexual language.