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When a Child Is a Victim of Sexual Abuse or Assault

Sexual abuse or assault is any sexual contact between an adult and a child or between an older child and a younger child. Showing pornography to a child is a type of sexual abuse.

Physical signs of sexual abuse of a child are not likely to be noticed without an examination of the genital area. Certain behaviors may give a clue that sexual abuse has occurred, such as when a child:

  • Knows more about sex or sexual behavior than other children of the same age.
  • Runs away from home.
  • Gets involved with drugs or prostitution.
  • Tries to commit suicide.

If you think or know that a child has been sexually abused or assaulted:

  • Call the police immediately. Certain people, such as doctors, social workers, and teachers, are required by law in all 50 states to report suspected child abuse and neglect, usually to the police or to state child protection services. In some states, all citizens are mandated by law to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect.
  • Remember that the assault was not the child's fault.
  • Find a safe environment for the child—anywhere away from the attacker.
  • Preserve evidence of the attack—do not let the child change clothes, eat, drink, smoke, bathe, brush teeth, or clean up in any way. Write down all the details about the attack and the attacker.
  • Get medical attention for the child. Even with no physical injuries, it is important to determine the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy. To preserve evidence, the doctor may do a special exam (called a forensic medical exam). If you think that the child may have been drugged, ask that a urine sample be taken.
  • Call the local or national rape crisis hotline for support, information, and advice. A counselor can help you through the process. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to offer information, advice, and support. Call toll-free: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised October 14, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 14, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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