Signs of Sexual Abuse in a Four-Year-Old Child

The scars that sexual abuse leaves behind are more than just physical and may cause a child to enter into adulthood with poor behaviors and lacking emotional maturity 2. If you know or suspect a child is being sexually abused, contact someone you trust, such as a family physician, a local shelter or the police for help and advice. (See Reference 2)

Behavioral Signs

According to Protect Kids, an online source for fighting child sexual abuse, a child who is suffering from abuse may wake up during the night screaming, sweating and shaking or have severe nightmares 12. (See Reference 1) Your child may begin acting aggressively or cruelly towards other children and animals, family members and even toys, will suddenly lose his appetite, show excessive or new fear of a certain place or person and engage in sexual behaviors such as masturbation. He may also ask unusual or age inappropriate questions about sex and sexuality and play sexually with other small children. Protect Kids also warns that a child who is sexually abused may begin injuring himself by sticking himself with pins, cutting himself or will show signs of depression, such as lacking enjoyment in previously loved activities, such as school and sports 1. (See Reference 1)

Physical Signs

Signs of Sexual Abuse in a Toddler

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Physical signs of sexual abuse may be disturbing for parents and caregivers but can indicate more easily whether abuse has taken place 1. You may notice your child having trouble sitting or walking. (See Reference 2) The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that a child who has been abused may show physical signs such as sexually transmitted disease or infection or pregnancy. The child may also have semen in or on her genitals and body or trouble swallowing due to injured esophagus from forced falatio. (See Reference 3) Protect Kids also warns that sexual abuse may cause pain while urinating 1. Physical trauma may be located around the genitals or anus, such as bruises, tears, scratches or burns. (See Reference 1)

Shame and Guilt

A child who has been sexually abused may show signs of shame or guilt, according to HelpGuide. Many children may feel that they are responsible for causing the abuse to take place and may feel guilt. This guilt can make children feel afraid of telling a loved one about the abuse. HelpGuide says that children who experience shame and guilt after being sexually abused may grow up to have problems adjusting to normal sexual behaviors and may engage in promiscuous activities or have the complete inability to have sexual relations. Because of the emotional effects of abuse, it is important to take a child seriously when he confides in you. (See Reference 2)

  • A child who has been sexually abused may show signs of shame or guilt, according to HelpGuide.
  • This guilt can make children feel afraid of telling a loved one about the abuse.

Risk Factors

Emotional Effects of Alcohol Abuse

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While sexual abuse can happen to any child, some risk factors may indicate a higher probability that a child will be exposed to abuse. According to HelpGuide, living in a family characterized by domestic violence makes a child more prone to abuse. Also, living with or being exposed repeatedly to someone who is an alcoholic or addicted to drugs, having caregivers who deal with undiagnosed or untreated mental illness, stress and lack of family support can create an environment in which sexual abuse becomes normal 1. If you or someone you know is in this position, contact someone you trust to stop the cycle of abuse. (See Reference 2)

Talking to an Abused Child

Your reaction to a child telling you about sexual abuse is one of the most important moments in your life as a caregiver 1. If your child discloses information to you, do not deny the child or disbelieve the child. It is imperative that you do not discount your child’s testimony. Reacting with shock or disbelief can cause your child to clam up and quit talking. HelpGuide also says to allow the child to tell you what happened instead of asking too many questions right away. Because of the shame, guilt and other emotions involved, reassure your child that she did the right thing in coming to you and promise her that you will help. Never make promises you cannot keep, however. (See Reference 2)