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Sexual abuse in children - what to know

Sexual abuse - children

This article tells you what to do if you suspect a child has been sexually abused.

Information

One in four girls and one in ten boys are sexually abused before they turn 18.

Sexual abuse of children is any activity that the abuser does to get sexually aroused, including:

Sexual abuse can also happen without physical contact, such as:

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

Suspect sexual abuse when children:

Sexually abused children might have:

Sexually abused children may also:

When to Contact Your Doctor

If you think a child has been sexually abused, get the child examined by a health care provider.

During the exam, the provider will:

Treatment

Get the child any needed medical care. Also get mental health counseling for the child. Active support groups that can help include:

Know that providers, teachers, and child care workers are required by law to report sexual abuse. If abuse is suspected, child protection agencies and the police will investigate. The child must be protected from abuse. The child may be placed with a non-abusing parent, another relative, or in a foster home.

References

Carrasco MM, Wolford JE. Child abuse and neglect. In: Zitelli, BJ, McIntire SC, Nowalk AJ, eds. Zitelli and Davis' Atlas of Pediatric Diagnosis. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2018:chap 6.

Marcdante KJ, Kliegman RM. Child abuse and neglect. In: Marcdante KJ, Kliegman RM, eds. Nelson Essentials of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 22.

US Department of Health and Human Services website. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Identification of sexual abuse. www.childwelfare.gov/topics/can/identifying/sex-abuse. Accessed January 15, 2021.

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Review Date: 10/2/2020  

Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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