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Red Flag Warnings in Kids and Teens

Signs that a teen may have been sexually abused

Some of the warning signs that a teen has been sexually assaulted or abused can easily blend in with the everyday struggles teens face as they learn how to relate to their bodies, peers, and environments. If something doesn’t seem right, trust your instincts. It’s better to ask and be wrong than to let a teen struggle with the effects of sexual assault. Remind the teen that if they come to you, you will believe them—and that if something happened, it is not their fault.

If you notice the following warning signs in a teen, it’s worth reaching out to them.

  • Unusual weight gain or weight loss
  • Unhealthy eating patterns, like a loss of appetite or excessive eating
  • Signs of physical abuse, such as bruises
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or other genital infections
  • Signs of depression, such as persistent sadness, lack of energy, changes in sleep or appetite, withdrawing from normal activities, or feeling “down”
  • Anxiety or worry
  • Falling grades
  • Changes in self-care, such as paying less attention to their hygiene, appearance, or fashion than they usually do
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Expressing thoughts about suicide or suicidal behavior
  • Drinking or drug use

Warning signs that a teen may be in an abusive relationship

It can be challenging for teens, who are new to dating, to recognize that sexual assault and abuse may be part of an abusive relationship. As someone outside of the relationship, you have the potential to notice warning signs that someone may be in an abusive relationship or at risk for sexual assault.

Look for signs that a teen’s boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner has done or said the following:

  • Tries to get them to engage in sexual activity that they aren’t ready for
  • Sexually assaults them or coerces them into unwanted sexual activity
  • Refuses to use contraception or protection against STIs during sexual activity
  • Hits them or physically harms them in any way
  • Doesn’t want them spending time with friends or family
  • Makes threats or controls their actions
  • Uses drugs or alcohol to create situations where their judgement is impaired or compromises their ability to say “yes” or “no”

Signs that a child may have been sexually abused

It’s not always easy to spot sexual abuse because perpetrators often take steps to hide their actions. Some signs are easier to spot than others. For instance, some warning signs might be noticed by a caretaker or parent, and are often red flags that the child needs medical attention. Listen to your instincts. If you notice something that isn’t right or someone is making you uncomfortable — even if you can’t put your finger on why — it’s important to talk to the child.

 

Physical warning signs:

Behavioral signs:

  • Sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age
  • Bedwetting or soiling the bed, if the child has already outgrown these behaviors
  • Not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior
  • Tries to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe

Emotional signs:

  • Excessive talk about or knowledge of sexual topics
  • Resuming behaviors that they had grown out of, such as thumb-sucking
  • Nightmares or fear of being alone at night
  • Excessive worry or fearfulness

Signs that an adult may be hurting a child

Keeping children safe can be challenging since many perpetrators who sexually abuse children are in positions of trust — according to RAINN, 93 percent of child sexual assault victims know the perpetrator. Keeping a child away from the perpetrator may mean major changes in your own life, even if you are outside of the child’s family.

Be cautious of an adult who spends time with children and exhibits the following behaviors:

  • Does not respect boundaries or listen when someone tells them “no”
  • Engages in touching that a child or child’s parents/guardians have indicated is unwanted
  • Tries to be a child’s friend rather than filling an adult role in the child’s life
  • Does not seem to have age-appropriate relationships
  • Talks with children about their personal problems or relationships
  • Spends time alone with children outside of their role in the child’s life or makes up excuses to be alone with the child
  • Expresses unusual interest in child’s sexual development, such as commenting on sexual characteristics or sexualizing normal behaviors
  • Gives a child gifts without occasion or reason
  • Spends a lot of time with your child or another child you know


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Learn about what's new at Verity, announcements from our partner organizations, and ideas to help you get involved in fighting sexual violence.
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