20 Hidden Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children Every Parent Should Know

Eight-year-old Tega lives with her mother, a foodstuffs wholesaler and her father, a driver, in Warri. As a result of his driving job, Tega’s Dad is usually out of town while Tega’s mum often travels far in search of farm produce. Tega usually spends time with her mum’s friend (Mama Julie) whenever her parents have to travel. This is in order to allow Mama Tega enough time travel farther into the surrounding towns to purchase food items. Sometimes, Tega’s mum is unable to return same day so Tega spends the night in Mama Julie’s house.  Mama Julie has two young daughters and Tega always loved to stay there. Yet lately, she has been protesting each time her mum prepares to take her there before each travel.

One day, Tega’s mum returned to find her daughter complaining of stomach pain. Mama Julie, her friend also added that Tega had soiled all her clothes the day before.  It seems the drugs Mama Julie bought for her were not effective so Tega was rushed to the hospital. By the time the doctors concluded their checks, they discovered that Tega had been defiled.

Despite the recent rampant cases of child sexual abuse in Nigeria, it is sad to note that most parents are not even aware of some subtle signs of sexual abuse in children. As a result, they fail to identify these symptoms earlier and probably prevent the damage. While some are aware but too busy to heed or pay attention to their kids, some think that sexual abuse is only when a child has been physically abused. Hence, they only look out for external signs of physical abuse in their wards. Overall, these could be detrimental to the health and safety of the child.

The International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences (2015) revealed that up to 40% of child molest victims exhibit no symptoms or only minimal symptoms.

Perhaps this is because most child molesters are careful not to leave any obvious physical clues about what they have done. Infact, they often make their victims understand that this is their “secret” and even threaten to kill or punish if the child tells. Hence, what exactly is sexual abuse and what are the common signs every parent should be constantly keep in mind.

According to the 1999 World Health Organization (WHO) Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention, “Child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society. Child sexual abuse is evidenced by this activity between a child and an adult or another child who by age or development is in a relationship of responsibility, trust or power, the activity being intended to gratify or satisfy the needs of the other person. This may include but is not limited to the following

  • the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity
  • the exploitative use of a child in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices
  • the exploitative use of children in pornographic performance and materials


Therefore from the above statement, it is unwise for a parent to lookout for physical signs only, when there could be other hidden damages in existence. More so, parents and guardians need to be aware that sexual abuse is beyond physical. For example, involving a child in viewing pornographic material or performance is also a form of abuse.

Below is a compilation of 20 signs of child sexual abuse every parent need to be aware of including physical and emotional signs.


General emotional, behavioural and physical symptoms of child sexual

  1. Sexual knowledge beyond the child’s developmental stage
  2. Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, anger, excessive crying or withdrawal
  3. Inserting toys or objects in genital openings
  4. Avoidance of certain people, places or other activities which the child will not explain
  5. Sudden preoccupation with sex indicated by use of language, drawings or behaviour
  6. Loss of appetite, difficulty in eating or swallowing
  7. Avoidance of certain people, places or other activities which the child will not explain
  8. An older child behaving much younger
  9. Excessive masturbation sometimes in public and unconsciously done
  10. Pain, discolouration, bleeding, discharge in genitals, anus or mouth
  11. Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements


Parents with much younger children need to look out for the following signs:

  1. When your child suddenly has new words for private body parts
  2. When your child asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games
  3. When you notice your child mimicking adult-like sexual behaviours with toys or stuffed animal
  4. Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toiled training
  5. A refusal to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
  6. Talks about a new older friend
  7. Thinks of self or body as repulsive ,dirty or bad
  8. When your child begins to resists removing his or her clothes at appropriate times for example at bath, toileting, bed time or diapering)
  9. When a child begins to constantly write, draw, or dream of sexual or frightening images


Finally, it is wise for parents to be proactive and ensure to protect their children from all forms of abuse. One way to begin is by keeping abreast with information as regards prevention and protecting your child from sexual abuse as outlined in this article. Perhaps if Mama Tega had paid more attention, she would have discovered that Tega’s refusal to stay with Mama Julie was because Mama Julie’s brother has been trying to touch Tega’s privates. Yet she didn’t pay attention nor investigate her daughter’s refusal but kept sending her there. Mama Julie’s brother who was on holiday at his sisters, kept trying till he finally succeeded. Dear parent, you would not want to be another Mama Tega. Be observant and do not ignore even the most subtle signs.


Passionate about women, children and vulnerability in developing countries, Ngozi Eneh Ojo a writer and business strategist drives social and economic development  through adaptive information.


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