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Warning Signs

General Symptoms and Signs of Possible Abuse:24618664_dd9782017c_o_d

  1. Unexplained injuries. Visible signs of physical abuse may include unexplained burns or bruises in the shape of objects. You may also hear unconvincing explanations of a child’s injuries.
  2. Changes in behavior. Abuse can lead to many changes in a child’s behavior. Abused children often appear scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn or more aggressive. Children may show signs of being overly compliant, an overachiever, or overly responsible as a suppression method. 
  3. Returning to earlier behaviors. Abused children may display behaviors shown at earlier ages, such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark or strangers. For some children, even loss of acquired language or memory problems may be an issue.
  4. Fear of going home. Abused children may express apprehension or anxiety about leaving school or about going places with the person who is abusing them.
  5. Changes in eating. The stress, fear and anxiety caused by abuse can lead to changes in a child’s eating behaviors, which may result in weight gain or weight loss.
  6. Changes in sleeping. Abused children may have frequent nightmares or have difficulty falling asleep, and as a result may appear tired or fatigued.
  7. Changes in school performance and attendance. Abused children may have difficulty concentrating in school or have excessive absences, sometimes due to adults trying to hide the children’s injuries from authorities. Again, children may also show signs of being overly compliant, an overachiever, or overly responsible at school as a suppression method of dealing with abuse. 
  8. Lack of personal care or hygiene. Abused and neglected children may appear uncared for. They may present as consistently dirty and have severe body odor, or they may lack sufficient clothing for the weather.
  9. Risk-taking behaviors. Young people who are being abused may engage in high-risk activities such as using drugs or alcohol or carrying a weapon.
  10. Inappropriate sexual behaviors. Children who have been sexually abused may exhibit overly sexualized behavior or use explicit sexual language.

Some signs that a child is experiencing violence or abuse are more obvious than others. Trust your instincts. Suspected abuse is enough of a reason to contact the authorities.

 


Warning Signs and Symptoms of Possible Sexual Abuse

Any one sign doesn’t mean that a child was sexually abused, but the presence of several suggests that you begin asking questions and consider seeking help. Keep in mind that some of these signs can emerge at other times of stress such as:

Going through a divorce

Death of a family member or pet

Problems at school or with friends

Other anxiety inducing or traumatic events


Signs more typical of younger children

  • An older child behaving like a younger child (such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking)
  • Has new words for private body parts
  • Resists removing clothes when appropriate times (bath, bed, toileting, diapering)
  • Asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games
  • Mimics adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animal
  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

Signs more typical in adolescents

  • Self-injury (cutting, burning)
  • Inadequate personal hygiene
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Running away from home
  • Depression, anxiety
  • Suicide attempts
  • Fear of intimacy or closeness
  • Compulsive eating or dieting
  • Physical warning signs

Signs you may see both in a child or adolescent

  • Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
  • Seems distracted or distant at odd times
  • Has a sudden change in eating habits
  • Refuses to eat
  • Loses or drastically increases appetite
  • Has trouble swallowing
  • Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
  • Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
  • Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images
  • Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places
  • Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
  • Talks about a new older friend
  • Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason
  • Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad
  • Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge


Physical Signs of Sexual Abuse

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Physical signs of sexual abuse are rare. If you see these signs, bring your child to a doctor. Your doctor can help you understand what may be happening and test for sexually transmitted diseases.

  • Pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth
  • Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements
  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

 

Remember, you don’t need “proof” to report suspicions of abuse nor do you need to “investigate” the situation. Once your report is on file it allows the professionals to take over.

If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, or is at risk of abuse or neglect, you should call your local DSS Child Protection Services office.

To find your local South Dakota DSS office, click Department of Social ServicesYou can also contact South Dakota Child Protective Services at 1-877-244-0864. If after hours or on the weekend or if this is an emergency call 911.

The Child Advocacy Centers of South Dakota

CACSD is a network of Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) dedicated to helping local communities respond to allegations of child abuse in ways that are effective and efficient – and put the needs of child victims first.

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What can you do?

Reporting abuse or neglect can protect a child and get help for a family – it may even save a child’s life. Learn more about reporting child abuse here.