Warning signs about child sexual abuse


  1. Touching and Non-Touching Behaviours
  2. Behavioural Warning Signs A Child May Have Been Abused
  3. Physical Warning Signs A Child May Have Been Abused
  4. Healthy Sexuality In Children
  5. What To Watch Out For When Adults Are With Children
  6. Alert Signals For An Adult With Sexual Behaviour Problems

Copyright Stop It Now! (2005).  Reprinted with permission from Stop It Now!

Child Sexual Abuse Includes Touching and Non-Touching Behaviours.

Touching Behaviours include:

  • Touching a child’s genitals (penis, testicles, vulva, vagina, anus) for sexual pleasure or any other unnecessary reason.
  • Making a child touch someone else’s genitals, or playing sexual games.
  • Putting objects or body parts (like fingers, tongue or penis) inside the vulva or vagina, in the mouth, or in the anus of a child for sexual pleasure or any other unnecessary reason.

Non-touching behaviours include:

  • Showing pornography to a child.
  • Exposing a person’s genitals to a child.
  • Photographing a child in sexual poses.
  • Encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts either in person or on video.
  • Watching a child undress or use the bathroom, often without the child’s knowledge (known as voyeurism or being a “Peeping Tom”.)

Copyright Stop It Now! (2005).  Reprinted with permission from Stop It Now!


Behavioural Warning signs a child may have been abused

Some of these behavioural signs can show up at other stressful times in a child’s life such as divorce, the death of a family member, friend or pet, or when there are problems in school, as well as when abuse is involved. Any one sign doesn’t mean the child was abused, but several of them mean that you should begin asking questions. Do you notice some of the following behaviours in children you know well?

  • Nightmares, trouble sleeping, fear of the dark, or other sleeping problems.
  • Extreme fear of “monsters”.
  • Spacing out at odd times.
  • Loss of appetite, or trouble eating or swallowing.
  • Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, anger, or withdrawal.
  • Fear of certain people or places (e.g., a child may not want to be left alone with a baby-sitter, a friend, a relative, or some other child or adult; or a child who is usually talkative and cheery may become quiet and distant when around a certain person).
  • Stomach illness all of the time with no identifiable reason.
  • An older child behaving like a younger child, such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking.
  • Sexual activities with toys or other children, such as simulating sex with dolls or asking other children/siblings to behave sexually.
  • New words for private body parts.
  • Refusing to talk about a “secret” he/she has with an adult or older child.
  • Talking about a new older friend.
  • Suddenly having money.
  • Cutting or burning herself or himself as an adolescent.

Copyright Stop It Now! (2005).  Reprinted with permission from Stop It Now!


Physical warning signs a child may have been abused

Does a child close to you have:

  • Unexplained bruises, redness, or bleeding of the child’s genitals, anus, or mouth?
  • Pain at the genitals, anus, or mouth?
  • Genital sores or milky fluids in the genital area?

If you said “yes” to any of these examples bring your child to a doctor. Your doctor can help you understand what may be happening and test for sexually transmitted diseases.

Copyright Stop It Now! (2005).  Reprinted with permission from Stop It Now!

Healthy Sexuality in Children

Sexuality is a part of every human regardless of age.  Below is just a partial list of healthy sexual behaviours in children:(Wurtele & Miller-Perrin, 1992)

Preschool (0-5 yrs.)

  • Common: Sexual language relating to differences in body parts, bathroom talk, pregnancy and birth. Masturbation at home and in public. Showing and looking at private body parts.
  • Uncommon: Discussion of sexual acts. Contact experiences with other children.

School Age (6-12 yrs.)

  • Common: Questions about menstruation, pregnancy, sexual behaviour. “Experimenting” with same-age children, including kissing, fondling, exhibitionism, and role-playing. Masturbation at home or other private places.
  • Uncommon: Use of sexual words and discussing sexual acts.

Adolescence (13-16 yrs.)

  • Common: Questions about decision-making, social relationships, and sexual customs. Masturbation in private. Experimenting between adolescents of the same age, including open-mouth kissing, fondling, and body rubbing.  Also, voyeuristic behaviors. Sexual intercourse occurs in approximately one third of this age group.

Copyright Stop It Now! (2005).  Reprinted with permission from Stop It Now!


What to watch out for when Adults are with Children

Have you ever seen someone playing with a child and felt uncomfortable with it? Maybe you thought, “I’m just over-reacting,” or, “he/she doesn’t really mean that.”  Don’t ignore the behaviour; learn how to ask more questions about what you have seen. The checklist below offers some warning signs.

Do you know an adult or older child who:

  • Refuses to let a child set any of his or her own limits?
  • Insists on hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling with or holding a child even when the child does not want this affection?
  • Is overly interested in the sexuality of a particular child or teen (e.g., talks repeatedly about the child’s developing body or interferes with normal teen dating)?
  • Manages to get time alone or insists on time alone with a child with no interruptions?
  • Spends most of his/her spare time with children and has little interest in spending time with someone their own age?
  • Regularly offers to babysit many different children for free or takes children on overnight outings alone?
  • Buys children expensive gifts or gives them money for no apparent reason?
  • Frequently walks in on children/teens in the bathroom?
  • Allows children or teens to consistently get away with inappropriate behaviours?

If you answered “yes” to some of these questions, talk to that person. If you are uncomfortable, but don’t see these signs, be sure to trust your instincts and ask questions.

Copyright Stop It Now! (2005).  Reprinted with permission from Stop It Now!


Alert Signals for an Adult with Sexual Behaviour Problems

Someone you love may be acting in a way that worries or confuses you. These behaviours may be a way for this person to ask for help. Many people with sexual behaviour problems wish that someone had asked them what was going on or had told them where to call.

Do you know someone who:

  • Talks again and again about the sexual activities of children or teens?
  • Masturbates a lot or takes breaks from other activities to go masturbate?
  • Talks about sexual fantasies with children and is not clear about what’s okay with children?
  • Was abused as a child and won’t deal with it?
  • Encourages silence and secrets in a child?
  • Looks at child pornography?
  • Asks adult partners to dress or act like a child or teen during sexual activity?
  • Often has a “special” child friend, maybe a different one from year to year?
  • Spends most spare time on activities involving children or teens, not adults?
  • Makes fun of a child’s body parts, calls a child sexual names such as “stud”, “whore”, or “slut”?

Copyright Stop It Now! (2005).  Reprinted with permission from Stop It Now!