Signs and indicators of child sexual abuse
Content warning: This page contains information that readers may find confronting or distressing.
Help is available if you or someone you know has experienced or is at risk of child sexual abuse. Our Get support page has a list of dedicated services if you need help or support. For information on reporting child safety concerns, visit our Make a report page.
If you or a child are in immediate danger, call Triple Zero (000).
Children and young people may express a range of physical and emotional symptoms that could mean they are distressed or going through trauma, including sexual abuse. The age and developmental level of the child or young person will affect how these symptoms present. Some children and young people who have been sexually abused will not show any obvious signs or symptoms. Understanding child sexual abuse and talking more about it are effective ways to help prevent and identify child sexual abuse.
Physical signs that a child may have experienced child sexual abuse include:
- stomach aches
- change in appetite and/or weight loss
- nightmares and sleep disturbances
- bruises on soft parts of the body, like buttocks or thighs
- changes in the genital area, such as redness, swelling, or discharge
- pain or burning when going to the toilet. 1,2
Children and young people who are sexually abused may find it difficult to process and deal with their distress after the trauma they have experienced. Emotional or behavioural changes could include:
- depression, anxiety and mood changes, including social withdrawal and disassociation
- self-harm or suicidal ideation
- poor self-care or personal hygiene
- harmful and volatile substance use
- over-compliance and eagerness to please
- aggressiveness and anger
- running away
- desexualisation – for example, wearing baggy clothes to hide their gender
- anxiety-related illnesses such as anorexia or bulimia
- fear and avoidance of certain people and places. 1,2
For very young children, or children and young people with disability, there are extra signs to consider:
- behavioural issues, particularly those the child or young person has not shown in the past, including emotional outbursts, self-harm and heightened aggression
- regression in developmental achievements
- developmental delays, for example, delayed speech, crawling or walking
- self-stimulatory behaviours, for example, rocking and head banging. 3
If a child or young person is a victim of grooming, blackmail or sexual exploitation, they may exhibit a range of signs and indicators. Visit our Grooming practices page for more information.
The Raising Children website also includes more information on recognising the signs of child sexual abuse.
1 Raising Children, Signs of sexual abuse in children and teenagers. Accessed September 2023. https://raisingchildren.net.au/school-age/safety/child-sexual-abuse/signs-of-sexual-abuse
2 Bravehearts, What are the signs of child sexual abuse. Accessed September 2023. https://bravehearts.org.au/about-child-sexual-abuse/what-are-the-signs-of-child-sexual-abuse/
3 Raising Children, Child sexual abuse in autistic children and teenagers: recognising, responding and reporting. Accessed September 2023. https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/health-wellbeing/autism-child-sexual-abuse/child-sexual-abuse-autistic-children-teens-recognising-signs-responding