Signs of sexual abuse

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This terrifying question is one that most parents hope they will never have to ask. But when parents assume that their children are not at risk, they are very wide off the mark.

The National Council for Child Welfare handles about 26 000 cases of sexual and physical abuse of children countrywide every month, and there chances are great that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The majority of sexual abusers are male, but perpetrators can also be women. The scary truth is that abusers are often friends, acquaintances and even family members.

How can you tell if someone is abusing your child sexually? Childline offers the following pointers.

Physical Signs:

- Any injury, soreness, redness, swelling or itching around the genital or anal area

- Sexually transmitted infections

- Fluctuations in body mass

- Pregnancy

Behavioural Signs:

- Inappropriate sexual play with self and others

- Inappropriate sexually explicit drawings

- Knowledge of sexual acts that is age-inappropriate

- Seductive behaviour

- Excessive masturbation

- Double dressing

- Avoidance of bathrooms

- Late arrival or absence from school

- Personality changes

- Change in appetite

- Sudden weight gain/loss

- Self mutilation

- Inability to concentrate

- Locking doors

- Very eager to please others (over-compliance)

- Depression

- Suicidal tendencies

- Nightmares

- Not wanting friends to visit at home

- Not wanting to go home or getting home too early

- Promiscuity

- Prostitution

- Running away

It is important to note that children who have been sexually abused may or may not exhibit signs and symptoms of the abuse. A child may also show one or more of the signs or symptoms listed, but may not have been sexually abused. If you are unsure, consult a professional.

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(Health24, Ilse Pauw)

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