The knowledge that a child is being abused is knowledge that must, under Irish law, be reported to the relevant authority. Once a child has revealed information pertaining to abuse, that information must be taken seriously, no matter who the abuse is alleged to be against, or what the child says happened. All allegations of child abuse – including (especially) child sexual abuse – must be taken seriously. What is done with that knowledge and what should be done with it are two different things. But I’m not going to go into great detail here about how the Irish state has failed, and continues to fail, children in the Irish state with regard to sexual abuse. Instead, I thought it would be far more productive to set down a number of signs of sexual abuse.
Children don’t always have the words to explain what has happened/is happening to them. There are, however, a number of signs apart from a verbal disclosure that a child is being sexually abused. Among them are:
- Sleep difficulties – trouble getting to sleep, nightmares, bed-wetting and tiredness during the day (from being woken up/kept awake by the abuser)
- ‘Zoning out’ or seeming distant
- Changes in eating habits – like refusing to eat, or constant eating, difficulty swallowing, an aversion to a certain type of food texture.
- Mood swings – fear, anxiety, aversions to activities they previously enjoyed, rage, insecurity or withdrawal
- Leaving ‘clues’ – drawings, books open at pages that discuss issues of a sexual nature, for instance
- Suddenly becoming afraid of certain places or people
- Refusing to undress (even taking off outer garments) at appropriate times – like when it’s time for a bath, or to go swimming
- Averting their gaze from mirrors
- Attempts suicide
- Attempts at running away from home
If you spot one, or more, of these signs in a child or adolescent you know it may not necessarily mean they are being sexually abused. That said, however, any one of these signs indicates that there is an issue worth discussing. So discuss it. Use the knowledge you have.