In the midst of all the squeamishness is the child. Met with inappropriate behavior from adults in the form of sexual requests and favors the child may soon be made to feel very much alone. Psychologists have said that children will make repeated attempts to call attention to their plight.
Without even being aware of it consciously, the abused child will be a living, breathing plea for help. These inadvertent pleas come in the form of myriad different signs of sexual abuse and they are, none of them, pretty. Faced with the ugliness of what it might mean parents often turn a blind eye. Teenagers may begin to display marked signs of sexual abuse years after the initial episode. The damage will be as fresh as if it had happened yesterday even if the abuse was episodic and the threat has since been removed. Children who have been sexually abused will appear somewhat inappropriate in their attitudes towards sex. They may seem unpleasantly promiscuous leading observers to make unflattering conclusions about their morals and values.
Sexual abuse is profoundly traumatic and constitutes a deep betrayal of trust. Even if the perpetrator is no longer around the teenager can relive their torment as if it were happening here and now.
Teenagers, who should be developing their own natural sexuality, will find themselves unable to respond appropriately. One of the well-known signs of sexual abuse is a push-pull attitude towards others. The abused teenager will make advances that will embarrass family members and then be unable to relax and feel safe in the arms of a loved one. The teenager will flaunt his or herself while simultaneously feeling a profound disgust for their own sexuality. Natural development of sexual needs and an ability to read them are lost on the abused teenager.
Another one of the signs of sexual abuse is self-mutilation. Contrary to popular understanding this seemingly maladaptive instinct is not a display of shame and self-hatred, though these emotions are a dominant part of the abused teenager’s personal landscape. It is more a sign of the need to feel something, anything, even pain. In an attempt to cope, the abused teen closes down all ability to feel. Without this adaptive response he or she will be too traumatized to cope. Shutting down feeling leads to a sense of living death.
Self-mutilation is the panicked attempt to reawaken a life-giving release of pure feeling. Signs of sexual abuse show up in all facets of the child’s behavior. Sleep, which most teens take for granted, becomes a struggle. Night is often associated with visits from the abuser. Sexually abused teenagers are tragically handicapped in all their relationships. Profoundly damaged by the dynamics of abuse they are often withdrawn and aggressive.
Abused children often suffer a misplaced sense of loyalty to their abuser who assures them that the abusive acts are their special secret. Ambivalence is one of the more subtle signs of sexual abuse. The affected teenager will probably feel both repulsed and sexually aroused. He or she will not know what to do with this paradoxical feeling where feeling good also intensifies feelings of guilt and shame.
Abuse often starts before the child enters the teenage years with the perpetrator assuring them that he or she is special because of his attentions. Once again shame and glory are intermingled in the child’s vulnerable mind.
Other signs of sexual abuse are excessive masturbation, aggression and preoccupation with the sexual organs; either physical or emotional. Watch for signs of skittishness in the presence of certain people. This may be an important clue. Parents who care for their child will have to get over feelings of embarrassment and reluctance regarding the offensive nature of certain signs of sexual abuse.
They will have to overcome societal patterns that ignore the unpleasant because the expression of their child’s distress is going to become a patchwork of unpleasantness. More general signs of sexual abuse are panic attacks, unexplained health problems, regression to childlike behavior and nightmares.