Signs and indicators of sexual abuse in children and young adults
Spotting the signs and indicators of sexual abuse is particularly important when it comes to children and young people. The template from the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse is an essential tool to support evidencing our concerns of child sexual abuse.
In every training course I run on the subject of Child Sexual Abuse, there is always a lengthy discussion on how to evidence concerns without specific “evidence”.
My experience as a Trainer has been that that many Practitioners feel they need a “verbal” disclosure before being able to action child protection measures. This can be a lengthy process and for some children is highly unlikely to take place.
Why verbal disclosure is problematic
There are many reasons why a child or young person is not able to talk about the sexual abuse that has, or may be happening to them. They may not understand that what is happening is abusive, they may be too young, too frightened, too ashamed. They may not have the words, verbal skills, they may have no one to tell, worry they won’t be believed, afraid of the consequences….
Good practice tells us that we must not put this burden of responsibility on children. What we are asking of them is to recognise what is happening, find the words to describe it and then take the enormous step of sharing that with someone else. This is an enormous ask of any adult, let alone a child who is being traumatised.
It is our responsibility to protect children from harm, and not theirs to “keep themselves safe”. This means we need to know the signs and indicators of abuse, and use them as our evidence of concern.
Signs and indicators of sexual abuse template
The CSA Centre’s new Signs and Indicators Template does just that. It helps professionals gather and consider the wider signs and indicators of sexual abuse to help build a picture of concerns.
The various sections clearly lay out the different ways children show us their emotional pain, their developmental understanding of sex, and how sexual trauma can affect behaviour.
This data is based on what we know from many children who have already experienced sexual abuse, so if we see these signs, there is a chance that this abuse is happening to this child. Be it producing drawings that show us their anger, having a fear of dentistry, using adult language or sexual behaviour which is developmentally inappropriate.
When we experience a sexual trauma, be it once or over time, there will very likely be signs that something has changed. Our job is to notice and use the signs and indicators tool as reference to help us decide on the next appropriate course of action. We have to be brave, so they don’t have to.
To download the template in English or Welsh, visit the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse website.