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Written by: Jason Jowers, MS, MFT

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to promote the safety and well-being of all children and families and to recognize the child welfare professionals and allies who work tirelessly to protect children and youth. When talking about child abuse, one of the toughest issues to face is child sexual abuse. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (2024), “Child sexual abuse is any interaction between a child and an adult (or another child) in which the child is used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator or an observer.” 

It can be extremely difficult to identify instances of child sexual abuse. Oftentimes, children and youth suffer in silence and are coerced to keep quiet about the abuse taking place. What are some ways that we as clinicians can be aware of and accurately identify child sexual abuse instances? How can we be advocates that strengthen protective factors for children and youth experiencing sexual abuse?

Ways to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse

The first steps require clinicians to be aware of the warning signs. This includes both physical and behavioral-problem behavior that children and youth may exhibit. Both Darkness to Light and RAINN have articles on what child sexual abuse is and the warning signs to look out for. Warning signs include:

  • Physical signs, such as difficulty walking or standing, pain, itching, or burning in the genital area, as well as frequent urinary or yeast infections
  • Changes in hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively
  • Exhibiting signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors (behaviors that are not age or developmentally appropriate) 
  • Self-harm 
  • Examples of child grooming to look out for 

Resources for Getting Help

There are fortunately many, many resources out there shining a light of hope for getting children and families the proper help they need when facing issues of sexual abuse. Here are a few examples of resources you can use in your work with youth and families:

Child sexual abuse is preventable. Anyone can be a reporter and can bring issues of child sexual abuse to light. It just takes courage to speak up and speak out for a child in need.


Blog Post Image: Pexels [Silhouette Photo of Jumping Children, photo by Margaret Weir, Sept. 22, 2017, CC0]