Identifying Possible Sexual Abuse

Common themes of behaviour have been reported time and time again, by children/youth who have been sexually abused.

The following provides a list of behaviours/activities that their abuser used. These are warning signs that the child may possibly be sexually exploited, or groomed:

  • Treating them differently from other kids, telling them how special they are
  • Wanting to spend time alone with the child, making excuses to go places alone or have others leave
  • Asking the child to do things that involve physical contact such as backrubs, wrestling, massages (or doing those things to the child)
  • Rubbing or touching the child's private parts and then saying it was an accident
  • Looking at or touching the child's body and saying it is an inspection to see how they are developing
  • Rubbing lotion or ointment on the child when no one else is around or when nothing is wrong
  • Going into the child's room when they are undressed or going into the bathroom when the child is in there, and saying it was an accident
  • Not respecting the child's privacy--entering their room without knocking, not allowing the child to close bedroom or bathroom doors
  • Teaching sex education by showing the child pornographic pictures, showing their body or touching the child's body
  • Saying sexual things to the child about their body and how they look
  • Talking to the child about sexual things they have done
  • Telling the child private things about their partner/the child's mother etc.
  • Telling the child that she/he is special, the only person who understands them
  • Treating the child like an adult, while acting like a kid
  • Giving the child special privileges or favours and making the child feel obligated
  • Not letting the child have friends or do things that other kids the same age do.
  • Going into the child's room at night or arranging for the child to stay over
  • Letting their robe open or walking around naked "accidentally"
  • Insist that the child not tell anyone
  • Taking the child's side in family conflicts to gain the child's trust & create division in the family
  • Isolating the child from friends and family


Based on materials developed by Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, Portland, Maine, USA (www.sarsonline.org).