No parent wants to imagine the possibility of anyone inflicting harm on their child. But this is an unfortunate reality for many young children. If you notice an abrupt shift in your child’s behavior, it’s important to ask why. Showing your child that it’s safe to talk to you about what happened is the first step to getting them help.

The warning signs of sexual assault

A child’s personality and behaviors change considerably as they grow up. However, major changes that seem to happen overnight should give you pause. A child who has experienced sexual assault may exhibit any of the following indications:

  • Acts withdrawn or fearful – or angry and explosive
  • Draws things that are sexual or scary
  • Wants to play sexual games
  • Is suddenly scared to be around certain people or go to certain places
  • Demonstrates a knowledge of sexual behaviors or new words for body parts that is beyond their years
  • Regresses into younger behaviors that they had outgrown – e.g., bet wetting, thumb sucking
  • Experiences marked changes in appetite – reluctance to eat or overeating
  • Has difficulty swallowing
  • Becomes suddenly uncomfortable with getting undressed for normal activities – such as bath time or bedtime
  • Suddenly suffers from nightmares or other sleep issues

It’s important to bear in mind that the above signs are merely indications that your child has experienced trauma. They could also present these types of symptoms in response to a divorce or the death of a family member or pet. If you notice such behaviors, it’s an opportunity to have a conversation with your child about what has happened with them.

If you discover your child has been the victim of sexual assault, report the incident to the police immediately. They can work to press criminal charges against the perpetrator. As a second course of action, you can also reach out to a personal injury attorney experienced in sexual abuse to pursue civil action against the abuser as well.