Given recent sexual abuse cases, signs of abuse come to forefront
The sexual abuse of children is a problem that plagues communities around the world, though people never expect it to happen in their own communities. Ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar is accused of sexually abusing and exploiting children as young as 6 years old, and new allegations continue to come to light.
Families, educators and others who spend time around children should be vigilant — children might not broach the subject themselves, according to Mayo Clinic.
"A lot of times children will not mention it because (they've been abused by) an authority figure," attorney Stephen Drew said in a previous State News article. Drew represents alleged Nassar victims.
Executive director of the The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, The NYSPCC, and president of the New York Chapter of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children Mary Pulido has dedicated her life in part to educating people of the warning signs that a child has been abused, and how to prevent it from happening again.
The NYSPCC runs the largest child sex abuse prevention program in New York City for children in kindergarten through the third grade.
"My staff are out there teaching and training on how to recognize, identify and report child abuse every single day," Pulido said.
They've been carrying out that mission since they were established in 1875.
"We wrote the laws that are the basic underpinnings of child protection in the United States today," Pulido said.
When a child has suffered sexual abuse, they often show no physical signs, Pulido said.
"You're going to have to really look at the emotional and the behavioral signs for children," she said.
Children below the age of 8 years old frequently display different emotional and behavioral signs than their older counterparts. Young children might seem to regress: wetting the bed, sucking thumbs, experiencing separation anxiety and regression in language are key warning signs of sexual abuse, Pulido said.
The biggest red flag for young children is sexual knowledge beyond what is typical at their age.
"(If) they're sexually acting out, that's something that needs to be explored," Pulido said.
Older children and adolescents might isolate themselves from their friends and family, develop eating disorders or substance abuse problems, experience mood swings or guilt, or self-mutilate.
Signs of sexual abuse differ from case to case, Pulido said.
"It depends on the child and it depends on the situation itself," she said.
If a child does mention feeling uncomfortable about an incident or an adult in their life, it should be fully investigated, Pulido said.
"The most important thing that a child needs is to be believed by an adult. That's the basis for healing. That's also one of the key messages we give little ones in our sex abuse prevention program," Pulido said. "Keep telling, telling, telling until someone believes you."
While the presence of warning signs doesn't necessarily mean a child has been abused, people should seek professional help if they have any suspicions.
Those who believe a child may be suffering from sexual abuse can report their concerns to law enforcement or contact the 24-hour Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.