Sexual Abuse Recognition

As a follow-up from the last post, I wanted to have more information for educators in identifying sexual child abuse in your students.  As a K-12 educator, in many states it is not mandated to take classes on child abuse recognition, even though you are mandated to report if you suspect child abuse.  As a preschool teacher, I am required by law to take classes on child abuse recognition every three years.  I just completed my three-year requirement, and realized that much of what I have on my blog coincides with this class.  And because many are not aware of all the signs, it’s only right to share them here.   

Did you know:   70-90% of children involved in sex trafficking have a history of being abused, usually through sexual abuse.¹  Also, those who are caught in sex trafficking are often physically abused, and usually emotionally/ mentally abused in order to keep the child prisoner.  For that purpose, the signs of physical and emotional abuse will also be discussed, as these are easier signs to pinpoint.  For the most part, determining behavior of sexual abuse is subtle or has very few signs, unless found by a medical examiner (i.e., a school nurse).

Sexual abuse by definition is any illegal sexual act on a child: incest, rape, indecent exposure, fondling, child pornography, and child prostitution.  Sexual exploitation which includes prostituting or using a child in porn, is the crux of sex trafficking.

Sexual Abuse Behaviors:
-Children expressing age-inappropriate knowledge of sex or sexual behaviors that seem too mature for the child’s age.
 -Highly sexual play
-Sexually explicit
-Post-traumatic stress disorder through fearfulness, excessive daydreaming, and re-traumatized from reactions or situations, causing flashbacks.
-Unexplained fear of a person or place, or trying to avoid a familiar adult
-Nightmares, sleep interruptions, and withdrawal

The emotional damage of sexual abuse is devastating.  It is a major breach of trust.  The perpetrator tries to manipulate the child into silence with real or implied threats, or gives the victim gifts.   The manipulation piece of this puzzle can result in a whole range of emotions: self-image problems, low self-confidence, guilt, shame, depression, anxiety, and mood instability.    Any drastic changes in personality with these emotional traits in mind could be a result of abuse. 


Side Note:  Keep in mind that a child who abuses another child may have been abused themselves.  Sometimes this occurs with sexual abuse/ sex trafficking, particularly when a boyfriend may prostitute their girlfriend.  These perpetrators may show signs of violence, manipulative behaviors, and exploitive sexual behavior. Sometimes teenage girls may be in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend, and this may be evident in signs you may see in your students.


Because sexual abuse is more difficult to detect, we will also list the things to look for under physical and mental/emotional abuse.  These seem to be more obvious in an abuse situation, particularly in the classroom where you will be in contact with these children. 

Physical Abuse Signs: cigarette burns, immersion burns, patterned burns, rope burns to unlikely parts of the body, cuts (to gums, eyes, mouth, lips, genitalia), questionable welts and bruises (particularly if they’re clustered or at different stages of healing), shape of object patterns (finger or hand patterns, belt patterns, etc.), human bite marks, any marks on the body where the explanation does not match the injury, and any marks on softer parts of the body or parts of the body that rarely sees injury, especially if this happens often.

Emotional/ Mental abuse can include ridicule, rejection, intimidation, belittling, indifference, unconcern about child’s problems (can also include school work), bizarre discipline.

Emotional/ Mental Abuse Signs:  antisocial traits, destructive traits, sleep disorders (where child constantly falls asleep in class), habit disorders (rocking, biting, sucking, etc.), behavioral extremes (overly compliant or overly enraged), pleasure in hurting people or animals, delinquent behaviors (drinking, drugs, etc.), self-destructive behaviors (including suicide attempts, cutting, etc.), self- fulfilling prophecies (living up to what the abuser says).

On top of the physical and emotional clues, a teacher may be able to pinpoint abuse through these academic signs:  learning difficulties, interrupted concentration, academic deterioration, excessive absences, and lack of self-discipline. Remember, any changes in how a student performs in the classroom could be signs of abuse and is worth looking into for the sake of the child.


Side Note:  Prostitution can occur in families.  It is common that a parent, sibling, or other family member will prostitute one of their children.  When working with families, watch the interaction between your student and their parents for possible signs of abuse (during parent-teacher conferences, meet the teacher, open house, etc.). 


The strongest clue that sexual abuse is occurring is if a student tells you they have been abused.  Even if the child is a “storyteller”, you need to take this seriously.  This telling is reportable, and may be the only sign to you that the child is being abuse.  By believing and listening to the child, you can resolve doubt in favor of the child.  The child’s safety and protection is of utmost importance.  A child disclosing information to an adult is a difficult thing for them to do.  There are many reasons why:  they have a sense of shame, they may be loyal to the abuser (Stockholm syndrome), fear of not being believed, and/or a fear of negative consequences to the child or their family (threatened by the abuser either said or implied).  Students may also send messages about their abuse in indirect ways.  One is bringing up a scenario “What if…..”  A disclosure can also be with strings attached: “Promise you won’t tell if I tell you?”   


So how do you respond if a child tells you they’re being abused?  It is most important to remain calm and not to respond emotionally as to not scare the child from disclosing this information.  Remember how difficult it must be for your students to talk about the situation to you.  Whatever you do, do not ignore the child or not respond at all.  This will give the child a feeling of abandonment.  If a child does come to you, sit near the child (not behind a desk), and give the child a space without interruptions from others.  Do not touch the child.  Listen and respond without emotion, showing that you’re listening through your response (i.e.  I appreciate you telling me about this.  This must have been very hard for you to do.).  Do not ask “why” questions:  this is very confusing for most children, and will give them a sense that it was their fault.  If a child shows you physical signs of abuse, do not react emotionally.  If their injuries are in private areas, refer them to the school nurse.  After this, you are mandated by law to report this disclosure.  Calling your local child abuse hotline, local child/family services, the local police/ sheriff’s department, and if you suspect sex trafficking, call the national human trafficking hotline at



Source: American Institute for Resuscitation




Nepal’s Stolen Children

I have been very passionate about the sex trafficking end of slavery for quite a time now.  I learn something new every time I do research, read about the subject, talk to others about the problem, or talk to those who’ve been there.  Imagine tonight watching the premiere of Demi Moore’s documentary “Nepal’s Stolen Children” on CNN how much I learned directly from the victims, the families, the rescuers, and the government.  The horrors of the crime of sex trafficking reach farther than just the pimps, johns, and victims.  It destroys families.  It affects villages.  It hurts women.  And it hurts those who are stuck into the depths of poverty.  Some facts about what I learned about Nepal and their fight against sex trafficking:

30% of Nepalese people are in dire poverty.  Because of this poverty, the promise of employment and a better life are the weapons lurers use to trick the uneducated.

Education is not mandatory in Nepal.  If given the choice, boys will attend school over girls, making girls more vulnerable to perpetrators.

Legislation is changing to include education for all children in Nepal.

36,000 underage girls are currently involved in sex slavery annually, and that may be higher.

There are no current regulations at border control with Nepalese people and Indian people crossing the border- they do not need to show an ID or passport and can come and go as they please without question.  Thousands cross these borders daily, even trafficking girls into India.

These are alarming facts, but hopefully there is hope for the children of Nepal in the future.  What struck me as painful to me and many who watched the documentary was the deep pain that these victims endured.  But once they returned home, that pain continued.  There was one girl whose daughter was born in the brothels her mother was caught in.  The mother was rescued, but the daughter who was separated from her daughter by the pimps and most likely abused herself, was still there.  Later rescued, they were then reunited, but the two-year old daughter did not even recognize her own mother (and if you’re around a toddler who deals with separation anxiety, this was very painful and heartbreaking to witness).  In other instances, families were reunited after victims were rescued, but because of the societal stigma of girls working in brothels, there was definitely awkwardness, and not the warm embracing welcome you would hope in these situations.  There were many girls who had children.  Some of them were separated while getting treatment for HIV and other diseases they contracted while being victims in a prostitution ring.  Many girls who were reunited with their families or would go out to work an honest living did not want their families or employers to know that they were at Maiti Nepal, a rehabilitation center and school.  This center was run by a lioness of a lady, Anuradha Koirala. Her passion for these girls and against the evils of sex slavery was evident in this documentary.  I wish I had her guts.  In a country where men dominate the scene, she has a fire in her that lets nobody get in her way when it comes to protecting girls.  She was at the border of Nepal and India questioning people entering and exiting her country to make sure sex trafficking was not happening on her watch.  She is tough but tender.  She cares for each and every one of the girls and the children brought into Maiti Nepal. Many she had rescued herself along with her team.   It is no wonder that CNN has named her the CNN Hero of the Year for 2010.  Anuradha is definitely inspiring for all abolitionists whose one wish is to end child slavery around the world, but particularly where they live.

Which brings me to my last point.  Demi Moore mentioned this, as well as knowing this is a fact from the abolitionist group I am a part of: What is happening in Nepal with sex trafficking is very similar to the sex trade happening on American soil.  It’s happening in Atlanta, Georgia as well as Bangkok Thailand; in Toledo, OH as well as in Nepal.  Because of this, we CAN do something about it.  Get educated on the facts of global slavery and human trafficking.  Tell others.  Get others together and come up with creative solutions.  Support those fighting in the field, rescuing victims, rehabilitating and helping those get their lives back.  Anyone can help.  As Demi said at the end of the show, what if it were your daughter?  What would you do?

To see an encore presentation of Nepal’s Stolen Children on CNN, it will reair at 11PM EST on Sunday, June 26.  Also visit and