Hiding in Plain Site: Warning Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

Hiding in plain sight…

• Amanda (14 yrs.) always wears long sleeves to cover the numerous self-inflicted cuts and burns on her arms.

• Cari (8 yrs.) suddenly begins wetting her bed at night.

• Joshua (5 yrs.) is discovered having oral sex with his 3 year-old sister in the hall bathroom.

As adults, we may think that children who are sexually molested would naturally alert someone about their abuse. Not so! In fact, an alarming 73% of child victims don’t tell anyone about their abuse for at least a year. Another 45% of victims keep it to themselves for at least 5 years, while still others NEVER disclose their abuse. (Smith et al., 2000; Broman-Fulks et al., 2007)

Children who have been molested may… or often MAY NOT… display behavior that is indicative of sexual abuse. For children who are acting outside their norms, be alert to these potential warning signs:

  • Knows more than normal about sex for their age
  • Masturbates excessively
  • Has a sudden fear of touch or is frightened of a certain person(s)
  • Starts wetting the bed or has nightmares
  • Changes eating habits
  • Can’t sleep
  • Exhibits low self-esteem
  • Seeks excessive attention
  • Seems depressed
  • Begins self-mutilation (e.g., cutting, burning, hitting, etc.)
  • Shares suicidal thoughts or actually attempts suicide
  • Uses drugs or alcohol
  • Has problems at school or is frequently absent
  • Sexually abuses others
  • Tells stories about a “friend” being abused

It’s important to keep in mind that if a child displays any of the above behaviors, that does NOT automatically mean that the child is a victim of sexual abuse. It does, however, indicate that something may not be “right” in that child’s life, so it’s important to further explore potential root causes of the behavior. If you are concerned that child in your life MAY be a victim of abuse, please refer to our 7-Step Response to Child Abuse Disclosure outline for a step-by-step tutorial of how to have the conversation and what to do if a child discloses abuse.

The number of child-on-child (or youth perpetrated) sexual abuse cases is on the rise in our country and as kids head back to school, it’s important to be attentive to changes in a child’s behavior, habits, and moods. To help, we invite you to download our free infographic called, “Child Clues,” which offers an at-a-glance list of the 9 primary warning signs that may indicate a child is in trouble and needs help.

Get CHILD CLUES!

I encourage all of us to be better informed about these potential warning signs so we can protect ALL the children in our lives! ♥

*Please note: Any names, ages and specific examples of child abuse have been altered to protect the identity and privacy of child victims and their families.


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


What Are ACEs All About?

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

Nearly 350 people gathered at the Milliken Auditorium in Traverse City, MI, at the end of April to learn how Adverse Childhood Experiences—otherwise known as ACEs—can eat at the very core of health and well being of both children and adults. A groundbreaking documentary, RESILIENCE: THE BIOLOGY OF STRESS AND THE SCIENCE OF HOPE, reveals research validating that trauma experienced in childhood can have significant, long-term effects on people throughout their lives.

“What the mind may not remember, the body never forgets.”

People who endure Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can suffer a variety of detrimental life outcomes, including:

• Engaging in activity or behavior that can negatively impact health (e.g., smoking, addiction to alcohol or drugs, self-injurious behavior, etc.)

• Encountering physical health issues such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and more

• Experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or even attempted suicide

• Enduring other negative life situations such as being at higher risk for domestic violence, poor performance at work or school, unintended pregnancies, financial stress and more

The ACE “Score” is a sum total of the different categories of ACE and is used to assess an individual’s level of childhood stress or trauma. Study findings repeatedly reveal that the higher a person’s ACE Score, the more likely that person is to experience one or more detrimental life outcomes (watch video below).

About the ACE Study

The ground-breaking ACE Study was initially conducted from 1995 to 1997 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente surveying and conducting physical exams of over 17,000 health maintenance organization members from Southern California. This study found that ACEs are incredibly common with nearly 2/3 of the study participants reporting they had experienced at least one ACE (and among those, 87% experienced more than one ACE) and more than 1 in 5 reported experiencing 3 or more ACEs.

Three Types of ACEs

The CDC shares an infographic that explains the three (3) different types of ACEs: 1) Abuse; 2) Household Challenges; and 3) Neglect.

Take the ACE quiz.

To understand your ACE score, answer the “yes”/”no” questions below then tally your score… the higher the ACE score, the greater the likelihood of encountering detrimental life outcomes.

So, before you turned 18 years old…

  1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… swear at you, insult you, put you down or humiliate you? Or, did that adult act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… push, grab, slap or throw something at you? Or, did that adult ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  3. Did an adult person at least 5 years older than you ever… touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? Or, did that person attempt or actually have oral, anal or vaginal intercourse with you?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  4. Did you often or very often feel that… no one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? Or, did your family NOT look out for each other, feel close to each other or support each other?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  5. Did you often or very often feel that… you didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes and had no one to protect you? Or, were your parents too drunk or too high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  7. Was your mother or stepmother: often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped or had something thrown at her? Or, was she sometimes, often or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist or hit with something hard? Or, was she ever repeatedly hit at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker, an alcoholic or who used street drugs?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill? Or, did a household member attempt suicide?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  10. Did a household member go to prison?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0

Visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to find more extensive ACE questionnaires for men and women that specifically address family health history and a personal health appraisal (see “Study Questionnaires”). Also, visit the CDC’s ACE Infographic to learn more.

What’s Next?

Many of us in the Grand Traverse region are pulling our heads and hearts together to explore ways to address ACEs and help end the cyclical and often generational nature of ACEs…stay tuned for more! In the meantime, there are a host of regional services that can assist…

It’s never too late to seek help.

People come to terms with childhood trauma at different rates and at different times in their lives. Some survivors of childhood trauma are connected with counseling and support soon after trauma occurs… others aren’t able to begin their journeys of healing until much later in life. Regardless of when a trauma survivor begins this journey, it is important to connect with the proper professionals who can best help and counsel the survivor. There are several services here in the Grand Traverse region that can be of assistance—many thanks to the following organizations who participated in the RESILIENCE event in Traverse City on April 29, 2018… connect with them at the links below:

In addition to a host of local resources, here are a few other organizations that may be able to help:

MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving)
1-800-438-6233

National Alliance on Mental Illness
1-800-950-6264

National Center on Elder Abuse
1-800-677-1116

National Child Abuse Hotline: ChildHelp
1-800-422-4453

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs,
National Advocacy for Local LGBT Communities

1-212-714-1141
[links to local programs]

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
1-800-622-2255

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255)  [24/7 hotline] 1-888-628-9454 (Spanish)
1-800-799-4889 (TTY)

National Runaway Safeline
1-800-RUN-AWAY (786-2929)

National Sexual Assault Hotline: RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)
1-800-656-4673 [24/7 hotline] 1-877-995-5247
[hosts an online hotline]

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline
1-866-331-9474 or 1-866-331-8453 (TTY)

Teen Line
1-310-855-4673 or text 839863

VictimConnect
National Hotline for Crime Victims
1-855-4-VICTIM (1-855-484-2846)


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.