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Signs Your Teen Might Be Sexually Abused

Lori Freson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

As a parent, nothing is more devastating than harm done to your child. When harm is done to your child, your heart might break that you weren’t able to prevent it or protect them. Sexual abuse might be one of the hardest things a family could ever have to endure. But let’s not ignore that this is a real issue. Let’s not keep our heads in the sand that it isn’t really happening in our society. Let’s be informed, help our kids, and end sexual abuse.

Teen sexual abuse is far more prevalent than most care to acknowledge. Furthermore, since the subject has become taboo to discuss, it does not get the attention it so deserves. Approximately one out of every 9 girls and one out of every 53 boys under the age of 18 are sexually abused or assaulted by an adult. Even more disturbing, 82% of all sexual abuse victims under the age of 18 are female. Female teenagers, between the ages of 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to become victims of a sexual assault, including rape or attempted rape. And, since many cases go unreported, the actual statistics are likely much higher than those indicated here.

These numbers are astronomical, if you really stop and think about it. As a society, we all need to be doing more to stop sexual abuse. Victims often feel a sense of shame or that they were to blame for the abuse. This tends to silence victims, allowing the perpetrators to get away with it, giving them an opportunity to abuse other innocent victims and not be held accountable for their actions. Furthermore, it perpetuates the cycle of abuse, shame and self-blame. It’s about time we started empowering one another to speak out and end sexual abuse. It is so important to speak up and end this abuse, as the effects can be devastating, and can affect young victims even into adulthood.

When a child or teen is sexually abused, it can have an effect on their mental health. Victims of sexual abuse are about four times more likely to struggle with substance abuse or experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as adults. They are also three times more likely to experience major depression in adulthood. They can be prone to anxiety, have trouble in their relationships, and even suffer from eating disorders. Being sexually abused is a traumatic experience, and the trauma can stay with a victim for their entire lifetime, wreaking havoc on their well-being. The longer the abuse continues, the more damage it can potentially cause.

With this is mind, it is important to understand some of the signs that someone has been or is currently being sexually abused. If you are aware of the sign and symptoms, and can help even one person get the help they need, then it’s as if you’ve saved their life. If you recognize these symptoms in your teen, a friend or family member, please talk to them, and assist them in getting the help they need.

Signs and Symptoms of Teen Sexual Abuse:

  1. Sudden change in personality. Example: Someone who was always bubbly, social, and talkative is suddenly quiet, isolated, and withdrawn.
  2. Change in attire. Example: Someone who used to wear short shorts and tank tops is now wearing jeans and sweatshirts all the time. Or the opposite, someone who was always very conservative is suddenly dressing in a very provocative way.
  3. Crying a lot
  4. Sleeping or eating significantly more or less than usual
  5. Seems to be staring off into space and not really present.
  6. Making excuses not to do things they used to enjoy, such as hang out with friends or play sports
  7. Grades dropping
  8. Afraid to be alone
  9. Cutting themselves
  10. Abusing substances
  11. Talking (also drawing or writing) about a great deal of sexual content, more than typical for the age and the person
  12. Saying things that point towards the abuse, but making it sound like a joke. Example: “My stepdad is always staring at my boobs. I know he wants to have sex with me.”
  13. Physical symptoms, such as pain in genital area, STD’s, pregnancy, etc.

So, what can you do if you suspect your teen is being abused or notice these symptoms in another person who might be suffering from sexual abuse? Talk to your teen and tell them what you’ve noticed and why you’re concerned. Ask them if they’ve been sexually abused and make sure they know you will be non-judgmental and supportive if they tell you. Also, let them know that if they’re not comfortable talking to you about it, you’d be happy to bring them to another trusted adult, such as a therapist or religious official. You might need to call the police. Be supportive and be right there with your teen, so they know they are not alone.

It’s also important to know what to expect once you’ve told someone. Depending on the details, the victim might be questioned by police, or child protective services, or both. They might be asked to have a physical exam, both to document evidence and to assess any harm done to them. The perpetrator might be questioned and/or arrested, and a victim’s advocate might reach out to guide you and your teen and support your family through any potential legal processes that arise from this. Most importantly, your teen can get a therapist and/or a support group to help them heal from the trauma of the abuse.

It will not necessarily be easy. But the more you do to help your teen now, the better the rest of their life can be. Make sure to find a therapist who is kind, nurturing and empathetic, with specialized training in trauma and sexual abuse. Find a support group of other victims who understand what your teen is going through and can offer some hope that things will better. Let’s all do our part to end teen sexual abuse.

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Lori Freson

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.