Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

Possible indicators and warning signs that a child or young person is at risk of suffering from abuse and/or neglect:

Changes in behaviour or emotional state (e.g. recurrent nightmares, extreme distress, appearing withdrawn or displaying aggression) that are a departure from what would be expected for their age and developmental stage, and is not fully explained by a known stressful situation (e.g. bereavement, parental separation or medical cause);

Dissociation (transient episodes of detachment that are outside the child’s control and that are distinguished from daydreaming, seizures or deliberate avoidance of interaction) that is not fully explained by a known traumatic event unrelated to maltreatment;

Poor appearance and hygiene (e.g. smelly, dirty, unwashed clothes, inadequate clothing, seeming hungry or turning up to school without having breakfast or any lunch money, frequent and untreated nappy rash in infants);

Health and development concerns (e.g. untreated injuries, dental problems, repeated accidental injuries caused by lack of supervision, recurring illnesses or infections, missed vaccinations, poor muscle tone or prominent joints, skin sores, rashes, flea bites, scabies or ringworm, thin or swollen abdomen, anaemia, tiredness, faltering weight or growth or not reaching developmental milestones [known as failure to thrive], poor language, communication or social skills);

Housing and family concerns (e.g. living in an unsuitable home environment including having no heating, sanitation or clean water, and being left alone for periods of time without a carer or other family members);

Substance or alcohol misuse;


Eating disorders/disordered eating;

Suicidal behaviours;

Bullying or being bullied;

Missing/running away from home or care;

Sexual behaviour that is inappropriate for age, indiscriminate, precocious or coercive.