What are the Warning Signs of Child Sexual Abuse?


Nov 15, 2023

Every day, countless innocent children are sexually abused – whether at home, in schools, in places of worship, on sports teams, and elsewhere. According to a statistic provided by Dordulian Law Group’s partner organization – RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) – government authorities respond to a report of child sexual abuse every nine minutes in the United States.

What are the Warning Signs of Child Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is a parent’s worst nightmare – but most people assume it will never affect their children. Unfortunately, many sexually abused children do not tell their parents about the incident. A child who has been sexually abused may be intimidated or threatened by predators, overcome with shame, or under the impression that no one will believe their claim. Child sex abuse survivors are therefore often unlikely to come forward immediately (if ever) to report these crimes.

It’s important for parents to understand and be able to identify the most important warning signs for sexual abuse. The information below will also include signs indicating an adult is harming a minor. We’ll also provide you with information on how to file a claim against your child’s perpetrator with the experienced and proven sex abuse lawyers at Dordulian Law Group (DLG).

What is Considered Child Sexual Abuse Under California Law?

California Penal Code § 11165.1 covers all forms of child sex abuse ranging from assault to exploitation and even trafficking. Essentially, because a child is too young to give consent, this type of abuse occurs whenever a sexual act is committed by an adult against a minor.

Child sexual abuse entails any form of sexual activity engaged in by an adult perpetrator with a minor, which may include:

  • Physical touching
  • Any type of sexual contact with a child (including sexual intercourse)
  • An adult exposing him/herself
  • Sharing obscene images
  • Taking inappropriate photos or videos (pornography), etc.

It’s important for parents to realize that child sexual abuse impacts all races, genders, ethnicities, religions, and economic backgrounds. In California, sexual abuse is legally defined as sexual assault or sexual exploitation – meaning a physical act like touching or a crime such as child pornography.

Additionally, parents need to be aware that the majority of sexual predators aren’t strangers. In fact, the vast majority of molesters are someone close to the child and the child’s family. Often, child sexual predators may be:

  • A coach
  • Teacher
  • Clergy member
  • Family friend
  • Relative

Sadly, most childhood sexual abuse is committed by a familiar face who has established a rapport with the family.

For Parents: Warning Signs of Possible Child Sexual Abuse

The majority of the child sexual abuse warning signs below are provided by various NGOs as well as government-funded entities, including Darkness to Light, Stop it Now!, RAINN, and the State of Michigan.

Below, we’ve separated the child sexual abuse warning signs into three categories: physical, behavioral, and emotional.

Physical Warning Signs of Child Sex Abuse:

  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Signs of trauma to the genital area (including pain, itching, or burning)
  • Unexpected or unwanted pregnancy
  • Bloody underwear/diapers
  • Torn underclothing
  • Bruising, swelling, or irritation in the genital area
  • Urinary or yeast infections
  • Difficulty urinating or moving of the bowels
  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

Behavioral Warning Signs of Child Sex Abuse:

  • Suddenly acting younger than their age (e.g. bed wetting, thumb sucking, etc.)
  • Night terrors or nightmares
  • Saying or doing sexual things that seem inappropriate for their age (excessive talk about or knowledge of sexual topics)
  • Fear of being touched
  • Taking on a caretaker role or being protective of younger children
  • Changes in hygiene (bathing, brushing teeth, etc.) or clothing preferences (e.g. not wanting to bathe, or wanting to wear very baggy/unkempt clothes)
  • Easily startled
  • Intense fears/nightmares
  • Post-traumatic stress symptoms (anxiety, irritability, can’t concentrate)
  • Changes at school (aggressive or timid behavior, skipping school, frequently feeling too sick to go to school or grades begin to drop)
  • Running away from home
  • Self-harm (cutting, burning)
  • Shame about menstruation or puberty
  • Avoiding certain people or places
  • Suicidal thoughts, especially in adolescents
  • Over involvement/achievement (e.g. obsession with grades, trying to be perfect in school or sports)
  • Substance abuse
  • Keeping secrets Not talking as much as usual
  • Not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior
  • Overly compliant behavior
  • Sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age
  • Spending an unusual amount of time alone

Emotional Warning Signs of Child Sex Abuse:

  • Change in eating habits
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Distrust of those (parents, relatives) with whom the victim previously had a close relationship
  • Change in mood or personality, such as increased aggression
  • Decrease in confidence or self-image (powerlessness)
  • Suicidal ideations or attempts
  • Excessive worry or fearfulness
  • Depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness
  • Increased rage or anger
  • Increase in unexplained health problems such as stomach aches and headaches
  • Loss or decrease in interest in school, activities, and friends
  • Nightmares or fear of being alone at night
  • Self-harming behaviors

At first glance, the list of potential warning signs for child sexual abuse is extensive and may seem overwhelming for parents. But it’s important to note that the more information and education available, the more likely you will be able to identify said signs and protect your child.

If you’d like a free consultation with an experienced and dedicated member of the DLG team, please reach out at your convenience online or by phone at 866-GO-SEE-SAM.

What Should I Do if My Child Reveals Sexual Abuse?

As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, coming forward and reporting sexual abuse – particularly as a child – involves a tremendous amount of courage. That process of reporting sexual abuse is one that can only be understood by the child survivor. As a result, the most important thing you can do when a child reports sexual abuse to you as either a parent or adult authority is empathize and confirm that you believe the claim.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) offers the following tips for parents if a child reports sexual abuse:

  • Listen carefully to what they’re saying
  • Let them know they’ve done the right thing by telling you
  • Tell them it’s not their fault
  • Say you’ll take them seriously
  • Don’t confront the alleged abuser
  • Explain what you’ll do next
  • Report what the child has told you as soon as possible

Additionally, as DLG’s in-house Chief Investigator and retired LAPD sex crimes detective – Moses Castillo – has noted in the past, after empathizing with and supporting a child who comes forward with an allegation of sexual abuse, the next most important thing you can do is report the claim to the proper authorities.

“The vast majority of sex crimes sadly go unreported, and it’s important that reports are filed with law enforcement as soon as possible after a child makes an allegation. Once a report has been filed, a parent is able proceed with a separate civil claim (in addition to any criminal charges that may be filed) in pursuit of maximum financial compensation,” Castillo says.

What are the Warning Signs That an Adult May be Abusing a Child?

In addition to identifying signs of child abuse, RAINN offers some signs which may indicate that an adult is harming a child. This can involve sexual or physical abuse, but as RAINN notes, protecting children is a constant challenge given that sexual predators are often in positions of authority and 93% of sexual abuse survivors know their perpetrator.

As DLG’s SAJE Team (Sexual Abuse Justice Experts) member, Detective Moses Castillo, noted in a previous blog interview, sexual predators are notorious for weaving into a family’s inner circle through positions of authority.

It’s important for parents to realize that the majority of sexual predators aren’t strangers, but someone close to the child and the child’s family. Whether it’s a coach, teacher, clergy member, family friend, or even a close relative, most childhood sexual abuse is committed by a familiar face,” Detective Castillo said.

“If an adult makes regular efforts to spend more time (typically alone) with your child than you do as their parent, that’s a red flag,” Castillo added. “Premeditated attempts to get a child alone – whether to go out for ice cream, take a trip to an amusement park, the movies, etc. – are situations that can be conducive to sexual abuse.”

“It’s also important to remember that sexual predators are notorious for seeking out positions (whether as a professional or volunteer) that allow them access to children. Granted, 95% of coaches, teachers, clergy, volunteers at religious institutions, etc. are likely upstanding citizens. But parents need to be aware that there’s no standard model for a sexual predator. A predator can be any of age, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.,” DLG’s founder and president, Samuel Dordulian, says.

Some common warning signs that may indicate an adult is harming your child include:

  • Does not respect boundaries or listen when someone tells them “no”
  • Engages in touching that a child or child’s parents/guardians have indicated is unwanted
  • Tries to be a child’s friend rather than filling an adult role in the child’s life
  • Does not seem to have age-appropriate relationships
  • Talks with children about their personal problems or relationships
  • Spends time alone with children outside of their role in the child’s life or makes up excuses to be alone with the child
  • Expresses unusual interest in child’s sexual development, such as commenting on sexual characteristics or sexualizing normal behaviors
  • Gives a child gifts without occasion or reason
  • Spends a lot of time with your child or another child you know
  • Restricts a child’s access to other adults

How Can I File a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit on Behalf of My Child?

DLG’s attorneys are ready to help you if you suspect that your child has been sexually abused. Our team will fight on your behalf for maximum financial damages and full justice – claims of child sexual abuse are serious and deserve to be handled with professionalism, discretion, and attention that we at DLG offer each and every client.
Sam Dordulian is a former Los Angeles County Deputy District attorney and sex crimes prosecutor. Dordulian founded DLG as the nation’s top sexual abuse law firm by providing survivor clients in need the very best legal representation in addition to a 24/7 support network of professionals:

  • 24/7 access to attorney Sam Dordulian and his team of dedicated sexual assault lawyers
  • Retired LAPD Detective Moses Castillo
  • A licensed clinical therapist
  • A licensed and accredited victim advocate

DLG believes all sexual abuse survivors and their families. We’re here to help you throughout every step of the legal process. A civil lawsuit seeking financial compensation for your child’s abuser can be the most effective way to secure justice. DLG will seek all damages applicable to your child when you file a civil claim for sexual abuse.
Some common damages that may be recoverable in a child sexual abuse claim include:

  • Psychological trauma
  • Emotional harm
  • Pain and suffering
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Past and future medical bills
  • Past and future counseling or therapy
  • Reduced capacity to earn a living
  • Punitive damages (which are not capped in California)

It’s important to note that sexual abuse civil claims are entirely separate (and have no bearing on) any criminal charges that may be brought against your child’s perpetrator – whether or not a criminal charge is ever filed or successful does not necessarily impact your family’s civil claim against a perpetrator.

New Law Eliminates Deadline for Filing Child Sex Abuse Claim

A new law which takes effect in 2024 – California Assembly Bill 452 (AB 452) – officially eliminates the statute of limitations for all new child sex abuse claims.

DLG’s Sam Dordulian expressed his support for AB 452 in a recent interview with the Daily Californian:

“It takes an extremely long time for children to be able to process what happened to them to be able to come out and tell their story,” Dordulian said. “If you put an arbitrary age like 40 or 26, or whatever age you pick, you are still going to limit a lot of people who are not ready to come forward and tell their story from ever getting justice.”

Under current California Law, childhood sexual abuse cases which occurred before January 1, 2024 are bound to the following deadline:

Claims must be filed before the survivor’s 40th birthday (or within five years of the plaintiff discovering the impact of their experience via a mental health injury such as post-traumatic stress disorder).

With the passage of California AB 452, any child sex crime committed after January 1, 2024 will no longer be bound to a claim filing deadline – meaning that survivors will be able to come forward whenever they feel inclined.

Contact California’s Leading Child Sexual Abuse Attorneys

At DLG, we know how difficult the process of reporting sexual abuse can be, and we’re here to listen, to believe, and to support survivors and their families in their pursuit of justice through civil lawsuits.

Our dedication to each and every client is exemplified by our results and experience:

  • More than $100,000,000 recovered in settlements and verdicts
  • A 98% success record
  • More than 100 jury trial victories
  • Former sex crimes prosecutor
  • Former Deputy District Attorney for L.A. County
  • In-house Chief Investigator/retired LAPD detective
  • More than 25 years of sex crimes experience

Contact us today for a free and no obligation consultation to discuss your child sexual abuse case at 866-GO-SEE-SEM. DLG and Sam Dordulian have successfully helped countless survivors recover maximum financial damages awards and obtain the justice they deserve on their own terms.

Our team of Glendale, California, child sex abuse attorneys accepts every case on a contingency fee agreement, which means you never have to worry about upfront costs or out-of-pocket expenses when securing the very best legal representation available. Our No Win/No Fee Guarantee means you don’t pay a penny until we recover maximum financial compensation for your sexual abuse claim.

Contact our top-rated team of expert sexual abuse attorneys online or by phone today to pursue justice and secure a financial award for damages.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you secure the justice you deserve through a child sexual abuse civil lawsuit with Dordulian Law Group.



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