I was around four or five years old the first time I saw a pornographic magazine. My uncle, who was nine years old, showed it to me in an attempt to introduce me to the things he wanted me to do for him. They were things a little girl of that age should never have seen or experienced, and those memories have haunted me for the past 30 plus years. Looking back, I see things I did that should have triggered closer inspection by my parents, but it was the 70s and we lived in a rural area where things like child sexual abuse “didn’t happen.”
What signs and behaviors could indicate a child that has been sexually abused? I can only speak from my own experiences as a victim of sexual abuse.
Signs of Sexual Abuse: Bedwetting and Urinary Problems
Somewhere around the time my uncle started abusing me, I began wetting the bed. Every night. Eventually, my mother took me to the doctor who diagnosed me with simple urinary issues. In my own research, I found that bedwetting and reverting to more child-like behavior is common among child sex abuse victims.
Signs of Sexual Abuse: Hypersexual Behaviors
I began to undress my Barbie dolls frequently and pose them in sexual positions. As a young child, I had no understanding of what was being done to me. I acted out what I was seeing in the pornographic magazines with my dolls. Once, upon finding Barbie and Ken in a naked embrace, Mom remarked “Well I hope they’re married.” I don’t think she had a clue what to think.
In first grade, I remember drawing a picture of King Kong with a gigantic penis and included other various penis drawings on the same page. This drawing was found by my teacher and given to the principal. Today, such a thing would cause school officials to contact parents and discuss the underlying meaning of the drawing, but in 1978 I was simply given a stern talking-to by the principal. I learned from that incident, and the comment from my mother, to keep my thoughts to myself and hide anything that might point to what had happened to me.
Today, if I saw my child undressing their dolls and putting male and female dolls into sexual positions – that would be a blaring alarm and I sometimes wonder why my mother didn’t figure it out.
Signs of Sexual Abuse: Shy and Withdrawn
I became a shy and withdrawn child. I was extremely quiet and afraid of being around people. At family get-togethers or public outings, I hid behind my mother. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.
Signs of Sexual Abuse: Self-Esteem Issues
At an early age I began to suffer from self-esteem issues. I felt that I was fat. Stupid. Worthless. All by the ripe old age of eight years old. To compensate for my low self-esteem I tried to become the perfect child. I was obedient to a fault. I wanted to do whatever was necessary to make sure everyone around me approved of me and my behavior, so I became a chameleon – changing and adapting to whatever situation I was in.
While the sexual abuse from my uncle had stopped by that time, the scars it left on me emotionally were still there.
Looking back now, as a woman in my thirties, I see signs that my parents should have recognized. My uncle – who was a spoiled and hateful teenager, was especially fond of spending time with me – his young niece. He would frequently invite me to hang out with him and his friend down at Grandpa’s barn. He would offer to keep an eye on me during family camping trips. These were his methods of getting me alone for his sexual games (which always included oral sex and masturbation but never actual sexual penetration).
While affection by an older relative should not always be viewed with suspicion, in this case – it should have raised a red flag.. Again, though, such a thing was unthinkable – especially in my family.
A child displaying these behaviors may be doing so due to reasons other than sexual abuse, but it is best to investigate the possibility of sexual abuse when faced with one or more of these signs.
Signs of Sexual Abuse: Pay Attention
The lesson to be learned in recognizing signs of sexual abuse is to pay attention. Pay attention to your child’s behavior. Pay attention to who is paying attention to them. A parent can’t prevent every bad thing from happening to their child, but they are the first defense against harm.