Caregiver Info

Signs And Symptoms Of Abuse

Child abuse can take place anywhere – at home, school, public places – wherever a child goes or interacts with others. It can take several forms, and cause long-lasting scars on the body of the child, as well as the mind. Child abuse can present itself in many forms, although some signs are not obvious or visible.

The first step in helping abused or neglected children is learning to recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect.

Warning signs may include physical signs and sudden changes in behavior and emotions. However, children who have been sexually abused may show no signs at all. And remember, these signs may be caused by other things than sexual abuse.

Physical Signs

  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Redness, rashes, bleeding in the genital or anal area
  • Bladder or urinary tract infections, painful bowel movements
  • Frequent headaches or stomachaches
  • Sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy

Behavioral And Emotional Signs

  • A sudden change in behavior or personality
  • Depression, anxiety
  • Withdrawing from family, friends or activities
  • Acting aggressively
  • Problems at school
  • Regressing behavior such as wetting their bed or sucking their thumb
  • Nightmares, sleep problems
  • Showing fear or reluctance to be around people, places, and activities
  • Acting out sexually
  • Showing knowledge of sex that is not age-appropriate
  • Self-destructive behavior such as cutting themselves, eating disorders, alcohol or drug use

Children who have been sexually abused may also experience feelings of guilt, shame, betrayal, confusion, and embarrassment.

Also, be aware of an older, more dominant child, teenager and/or an adult who seems to want to spend time alone with your child. They may be trying to groom your child for abuse. Grooming involves gaining the trust of the child and family in order to have access to the child with the intention of using them in a sexual way.

Be alert to the signs of sexual abuse. If you have been told about abuse or even suspect abuse, report it!

This information is provided to us from the Illinois child abuse prevention site.

What To Say And Do

Once The Secret Is Out You Can Say

  • I believe you. I’m glad you told me.
  • I’m not sure what will happen next but I’ll tell you when I know.
  • This has happened to a lot of other kids. Nothing you did made it happen.
  • I’ll do my best to protect you now that I know.
  • I am upset, but not with you!

A Few Don’ts

  • Don’t restrict your child’s play and other normal activities any more than you must for your own peace of mind. If you keep him/her from playing outside, he/she may see this as punishment.
  • Your child may cling to you for a few days. Don’t be afraid to let him/her.
  • Don’t ask probing questions about the details of the abuse or ask why he/she didn’t tell sooner.
  • Don’t tell the child to “forget it”.

Safety Planning

Listen To Your Child

Watch your child’s behavior and reactions. Make sure you know your significant other well before you let him or her be alone with your child. If it’s safe, ask for help and talk honestly with your:

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Spiritual leader
  • Health care provider
  • Family support worker
  • Or anyone you trust

Call your local health department to find out about support groups and other parent resources in your area.

Protect your children from registered sex offenders living in Illinois. For the complete list visit the Illinois Sex Offender Registration Information site.

Protecting You And Your Child From Domestic Violence

  • Talk with someone you trust about what’s going on.
  • Call DOVE's 24-Hour Hotline: 217-423-2238 to find help near you or someone to talk with.
  • Leave an “emergency kit” with someone you trust that includes:
    • Money
    • Important papers
    • Keys
    • Medicine
    • Other things you and your children really need
  • In a violent situation, avoid rooms without exits or with potential weapons, such as kitchens.
  • Arrange a signal with a neighbor to let them know when you need help, such as pulling down a certain window shade.
  • Discuss a safety plan with your children, including people they can call or go to in an emergency.
  • Call 911 if you are in immediate danger.

Child Abuse Prevention Information

Child sexual abuse is a community problem that not only affects the child and family involved but the entire community as well. Child sexual abuse can be prevented.

  • Educate yourself about child sexual abuse.
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms. Pay attention to the care of all children.
  • Report it.
  • Teach children how to protect themselves. Make sure they know they have the right to not let anyone touch them if they do not want to be touched.
  • Be involved in your children’s activities.
  • Know where your children are and who they are with.
  • Let children know they can talk to you about anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. If a child tells you about abuse, believe them.
  • Educate your community about child sexual abuse and child sexual abuse prevention. Call them to action to do something about it, host a Darkness2Light “Stewards of Children” Training in your community.
  • Help strengthen your community by volunteering your time to organizations that help protect children.
  • Join or start a Child Abuse Prevention Coalition in your community.
  • Advocate for legislation that supports children.
  • Make child abuse prevention a priority!

For more information go to Prevent Child Abuse Illinois.

Signs of Childhood Exposure

  • Difficulty sleeping, night terrors
  • Bedwetting after a period of being potty trained
  • Aggressive behavior, such as hitting parents or siblings
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Loss of appetite lasting more than a month
  • Listlessness
  • Unwillingness to explore new surroundings
  • Sexually acting out behaviors