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Sexual abuse is any sexual molestation or sexual exploitation of a child by an older person where the child is being used for a sexual purpose. Some criminal codes like The Criminal Code of Canada, identify a number of types of sexual abuse, including sexual interference, an invitation to sexually touch, sexual exploitation of a young person, parent, guardian or caregiver procuring sexual activity from a child, household permitting sexual activity, exposing genitals to a child, and incest.

The signs and indicators of abuse and neglect may include, but are not limited to, those that follow. It is important to realize that the presence of any one indicator is not conclusive proof that a child has been abused. In most instances, abused children will exhibit a number of behavioural and physical indicators.

Physical indicators in children

  • A lot of itching or pain in the throat, genital or anal area

  • A smell or discharge from the genital area

  • Underwear that is bloody

  • Pain when:

    • trying to go to the bathroom

    • sitting down

    • walking

    • swallowing

  • Blood in urine or stool

  • Injury to the breasts or genital area:

    • redness

    • bruising

    • cuts

    • swelling

Behavioural indicators in children

  • Copying the sexual behaviour of adults

  • Knowing more about sex than expected

  • Details of sex in the child’s drawings/writing

  • Sexual actions with other children, including siblings, or adults that are inappropriate

  • Fears or refuses to go to a parent, relative, or friend for no clear reason

  • Does not trust others

  • Changes in personality that do not make sense, e.g., happy child becomes withdrawn

  • Problems or change in sleep pattern, e.g., nightmares

  • Very demanding of affection or attention, or clinging

  • Goes back to behaving like a young child, e.g., bed-wetting, thumb-sucking

  • Refuses to be undressed or, when undressing shows fear

  • Tries to hurt oneself

  • Discloses abuse

Behaviours observed in adults who abuse children

  • May be very protective of the child

  • Clings to the child for comfort

  • Is often alone with the child

  • May be jealous of the child’s relationships with others

  • Does not like the child to be with friends unless the parent is present

  • Talks about the child being “sexy”

  • Touches the child in a sexual way

  • May use drugs or alcohol to feel freer to sexually abuse

  • Allows or tries to get the child to participate in sexual behaviour

  • Uses the child to make money, e.g., child pornography

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