The Warning Signs of Childhood Sexual Abuse

an anxious girl with her head in her arms

Childhood sexual abuse is a heinous crime that happens far too often. It’s a crime that happens all over the country—in schools and churches, hospitals and nursing homes. It’s a crime that often targets the most vulnerable members of the community. And sadly, because of this, it’s also a crime for which many perpetrators do not see justice.

Below, our Los Angeles trial attorneys discuss childhood sexual abuse in more detail and the warning signs for which you should be on the lookout.

What is Childhood Sexual Abuse?

Childhood sexual abuse can involve sexual contact with a child, but it may also include non-physical actions such as exposing oneself to a child, sharing inappropriate images with a child, taking obscene photos or videos of a child, and much more.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), government authorities respond to a report of child sexual abuse every nine minutes.

The vast majority of childhood sexual abuse occurs at the hands of someone close to the victim. Sexual abusers know what they are doing when they make this decision. They know that they can take advantage of trusting relationships with children to confuse their victims and make it less likely for them to report the crime.

Oftentimes, childhood sexual abuse survivors take decades to sort through their trauma and understand that they have been abused. In some states, this makes it so that the statute of limitations has expired by the time the survivor is ready to report the abuse, resulting in the abuser avoiding justice.

Where Does Childhood Sexual Abuse Happen?

Childhood sexual abuse happens in various communities across the country, particularly in groups where children have close and trusting relationships with adults, including the following:

  • Schools
  • Sports teams
  • Foster homes
  • Daycare facilities
  • Religious institutions
  • Doctors’ offices and hospitals

It is a common misconception that childhood sexual abuse is only perpetrated against girls by male strangers in poor areas. In reality, childhood sexual abuse affects girls and boys alike and is committed by men and women of all ages, in large and small communities, in geographic areas that cross the boundaries of race and class.

Given the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse, it’s important for you to know the warning signs of this terrible crime so you can take the appropriate action when you suspect it.

What Are the Warning Signs of Childhood Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abusers know how to cover their tracks. As such, it’s vital that you know how to identify the various physical, behavioral, and emotional warning signs of sexual abuse in a child. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

Physical Warning Signs

  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Signs of trauma to the genital area

Behavioral Warning Signs

  • Bedwetting or soiling the bed if the child has already outgrown these behaviors
  • Not wanting to be left alone with certain people
  • Not wanting to remove clothes to get dressed or bathe

Emotional Warning Signs

  • Talking about or knowledge of sexual topics
  • Nightmares or fear of being alone at night
  • Excessive worry

What to Do if You Suspect Childhood Sexual Abuse

If you witness the aforementioned warning signs in a child close to you, try taking the following measures to speak with them about your concerns:

  • Choose a time when the child is comfortable. Avoid talking to the child about this topic in front of anyone else.
  • Use a careful tone. Speaking in a serious tone may scare the child. Try to use a more casual, non-threatening tone during this conversation.
  • Ask the child direct questions. Use simple language that the child will understand.
  • Listen to the child. Make sure the child says everything they want to say. Do not interrupt them with additional questions.
  • Avoid judgment and blame. If the child feels like the abuse is their fault, they are less likely to open up about the situation.
  • Reassure the child. Tell the child that you are there to support and protect them, no matter what.
  • Be patient. Understand that this can be very difficult and confusing for children to talk about. Give them the time they need to express their feelings.

If your suspicions of childhood sexual abuse become greater after this discussion, take the following steps to report the abuse:

  • Make sure the child is in a safe place and away from the potential abuser before you report the abuse.
  • Report the suspected crimes to the proper authorities. The authorities you must report to vary from state to state. In California, you must report the abuse to any police department or sheriff’s department, the county probation department, or the county welfare department.
  • Continue to play the supportive role you have in the child’s life. They will need your support during this difficult time.

California’s Statute of Limitations for Childhood Sexual Abuse

Not all victims of childhood sexual abuse are still children. Due to the confusing nature of childhood sexual abuse, some survivors may need years or decades to sort through their trauma, realize they had been abused, and decide to report the abuse.

This may be an issue in some states where the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse expires before the survivor decides to report the abuse.

In California, however, a recent law change gives childhood sexual abuse survivors more time to come forward. In October 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 218 into law, which enacted the following:

  • Childhood sexual abuse survivors must file a lawsuit by age 40, or within five years of discovering the abuse as an adult.
  • Starting in January 2020, survivors in California now have a three-year window to file sexual abuse claims that have previously passed the statute of limitations.
  • Courts are empowered to triple damage awards when sexual abuse happened alongside an attempted or successful cover-up.

Previously, California law only allowed childhood sexual abuse survivors until the age of 26 to file a report. Now, survivors have 14 more years to do so.

Recovering Damages for Sexual Abuse

There is no doubt that childhood sexual abuse can be physically, emotionally, and financially devastating for survivors. Aside from the physical and psychological trauma, victims typically incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in lifetime costs on therapies and other treatments to address the abuse.

Additionally, survivors of sexual abuse and assault often experience a level of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) comparable to war veterans. This often requires extensive counseling and therapy to work through such trauma.

After suffering from childhood sexual abuse, survivors may be able to seek compensation for the following:

  • Emotional and physical pain and suffering
  • Medical expenses for the treatment of physical injuries
  • Ongoing counseling and therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression related to the abuse
  • Past and future lost wages when survivors are unable to find or maintain meaningful employment because of the abuse

At Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP, our nationally-recognized Los Angeles trial attorneys are prepared to stand by your side and help you file a sexual abuse lawsuit. We have a strong track record of achieving multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts for clients, and we’re passionate about helping childhood sexual abuse survivors obtain justice.

Don’t spend another second in silence. Contact Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP today at (866) 634-4525 to schedule a confidential consultation with our team.

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