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Signs of Sexual Abuse in Teens

Jun 06, 2024
Last updated Jun 17, 2024
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No one wants to think of the possibility of their child being sexually abused. However, sexual abuse of teenagers is an unfortunate reality, far more common than many realize. 

Key Takeaways

  • Teen sex abuse is more prevalent than many assume, with teen girls four times more likely to be raped than the general population.
  • While teen sex abuse can be challenging to detect, there are common red flags that can help you discover if your teenager has been sexually groomed or abused.
  • A teen sex abuse lawyer can help survivors recover justice and hold their abuser and any negligent third-party organizations accountable for the crime.

Child Protective Services receives a sex abuse report every nine minutes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated one in four girls and one in 13 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before they turn 18. Despite its prevalence, teenagers rarely report sexual abuse, leaving them vulnerable to further abuse and trauma. Without awareness and education, family, friends, and caretakers may not recognize the signs of sexual abuse in teens and fail to take appropriate action.

If your teenager was sexually abused and wants to come forward with their story, it is imperative you seek out an experienced and compassionate teen sex abuse attorney who understands the pain and trauma your teen has gone through, and can help ensure that their rights are respected during the legal process. At Edwards Henderson, our sex abuse attorneys are nationally recognized for their commitment to fighting for survivors of teen sex abuse. Our experienced lawyers can help guide survivors through the legal process and provide the support needed for this difficult time. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is any nonconsensual sexual activity. Child sexual abuse includes any type of sexual contact or behavior between an adult and a child, including touching, intercourse, oral sex, exhibitionism, and more. All states in the U.S. have laws regarding the age of consent, which means even mutually consensual sexual activity with a person below the age of consent is a crime. This is because a minor is deemed to not have the capacity to fully comprehend the nature of the sexual activity or be emotionally or developmentally prepared to give consent. 

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 66 percent of child sex abuse survivors are between ages 12-17, and 82 percent of survivors under 18 years are females. Girls between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than the general population. 

Survivors of teen sex abuse often suffer long-term side effects due to the trauma caused. According to RAINN, child sex abuse survivors are about four times more likely to experience PTSD or abuse drugs as an adult, and three times more likely to experience a major depressive episode as an adult.

Sexual Abuse in Teens: Common Warning Signs

Sexual abuse is unfortunately a common occurrence among teenagers. It takes many forms, ranging from forced pornography to rape. No matter what form it takes, it always hurts the abused teen in some way. For parents, knowing the signs of sexual abuse may help them identify red flags so they can undertake an appropriate course of action. 

Some common warning signs to look out for include:

  • Unusual weight loss or gain, loss of appetite, and unhealthy eating patterns: Eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating, may indicate a deeper issue, like sexual abuse. Be mindful of any significant changes to your teen’s diet and have a gentle discussion with them about their eating patterns. 
  • Unexplained bruises, swelling, and other physical signs: Physical signs of sexual abuse include unexplained bruises, scratches, swelling, redness, bites, and cuts, as well as difficulty walking or sitting, headaches, and stomach issues for no other apparent reason. If your teen has experienced any of these injuries or health concerns, this could be a sign of abuse. 
  • Sexually transmitted diseases and/or genital infections, like UTIs, or missed periods: STDs, genital infections, and teen pregnancy could be signs of abuse in your teenager.
  • Mental health issues, such as anxiety, hypersensitivity, or addiction: Teens who experienced sexual abuse may show signs of PTSD, including flashbacks, panic attacks, and hypervigilance. They may also show a fixation on the past and blame themselves for others’ actions. 
  • Signs of depression, including withdrawal, lack of energy, or change in sleeping habits: Depressive behaviors, including withdrawal, loss of interest, and self-mutilation, are clear red flags that something is wrong in your teen’s life. Pay close attention to any changes in your teen’s sleeping or eating habits, mood, energy levels, or overall attitude. 
  • Sudden changes in behavior such as self-isolation and insomnia: Sudden changes in behavior may signify teen sexual abuse. Look out for frequent crying, self-isolation, clinginess, trouble sleeping, frequent nightmares, erratic driving, lying about online activities, keeping bedroom doors constantly locked, and risky sexual behavior.
  • Changes in behavior or emotions, such as sudden anger or aggressiveness, fear, worry, or restlessness: One of the first signs of sexual abuse in teens is changes in behavior or emotions. This can manifest as sudden anger or aggressiveness, crying spells, a dramatic change in personality, or difficulty expressing emotions. 
  • Avoiding certain people or places without a reasonable explanation and getting upset when a certain person is mentioned: If your teen starts avoiding certain places, people, or activities without an explanation, this may be indicative of abuse. Similarly, if your teen gets agitated when a particular person is mentioned, find out who and why. 
  • Difficulty maintaining friendships: Sexually abused teenagers may find maintaining friendships difficult due to feelings associated with the abuse, such as lack of trust, fear, anger, guilt, or shame. They may also fear being judged or rejected by their peers if they disclose the abuse.
  • Changes in appearance and self-care, and hygiene issues: Significant changes in appearance and self-care can also be cause for concern. This includes wearing baggier clothes than usual or dressing differently than before, sudden changes in hygiene habits, or disinterest in physical activities.
  • Self-destructive behavior patterns, like not paying attention to grades, college applications, or expressing thoughts about suicide: Survivors of sexual abuse may also display self-destructive behaviors such as failing to do their homework, refusing to study, missing important college application deadlines, and expressing thoughts about suicide. 

Signs of Grooming A Teenager 

Teen grooming has come into the forefront in the recent times, with news of celebrities like Ezra Miller accused of grooming a teen with cult-like behavior. Grooming is a process in which a predator targets a person and builds an emotional connection with them, with the end goal of manipulating and sexually exploiting them. A groomer may gain your teen’s trust through promises of support and understanding of their needs, and gradually isolating them from their loved ones. Predators may also attempt to control the teen through financial or emotional manipulation, such as by providing them gifts or promising to pay for their education. 

Predators often target specific individuals based on their vulnerabilities and access. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable if they are isolated, estranged from their family, have difficulty making friends, or seem desperate for love and attention. Predators may shower teens with compliments or gifts, making them feel special and establishing trust and gratitude, so they can get to know their interests and make them feel like they understand them. 

Isolation is another tactic used by groomers. They may encourage the teen to spend more time away from family and friends, creating a sense of dependency on them for companionship and attention. Predators also try normalizing inappropriate behavior such as sexual activity, pornographic images, or explicit photos and messages. Finally, they may try to control the teen by dictating who they should talk to and how they should act.

While identifying teen grooming is challenging, there are some common warning signs:

  • Your teenager talks a lot about a particular adult: Grooming often involves an adult creating a special relationship with a teen to make them feel important and valued and to slowly gain their trust. If your teenager spends a lot of time with one adult and talks about them in an overly familiar way, this may be a cause for concern.
  • Is in a relationship with an older person: An age gap can be a red flag, especially if the other person is an adult. An abuser may convince your teenager to enter into a relationship with them, often promising gifts or providing things they cannot get from their parents or other adults.
  • Is drifting away from their friend circle or forming a new social group: If your teenager is becoming isolated from their existing friend group or creating new ones outside of your knowledge, this could indicate something is awry.
  • Is spending more time alone and in private: If your teen frequently seeks privacy and avoids family or social activities, it might be a sign that they are being groomed by someone else.
  • Is unclear about where they are or what they are up to: If your teen is evasive about where they are going or who they are spending time with, this could be another red flag. 
  • Frequently dodges questions about their whereabouts:  A teen becoming increasingly secretive and reluctant to answer your questions may be trying to hide something. 
  • Stops telling you about their day or seeking advice: Teens groomed by adults may begin distancing themselves from their parents and stop confiding in them. 
  • Has unexplained gifts or benefits whose source they refuse to mention: Grooming often involves an adult giving expensive gifts or favors to the teenager. If your teen starts receiving unexplained items or money without an explanation, this could be a sign of grooming.
  • Is skipping usual activities and school: A teen victim of grooming may suddenly start missing activities, school, or other commitments that were important to them before. If your teen suddenly drops out of regular activities and classes, this is likely a sign that something is wrong. 

Effects of Sexual Abuse on Teens

The long-term effects of sexual abuse on teens range from difficult to devastating. Adolescents and teenagers who experience sexual abuse often struggle with feelings of shame, guilt, powerlessness, and fear, long after the abuse took place.

Many sexual abuse survivors experience mental health problems in the aftermath of the abuse, and even later on in their lives. Common mental health conditions include depression, anxiety, PTSD, heightened sensitivity, and difficulty forming or maintaining relationships. Eating disorders are extremely common among teen sex abuse survivors, as restrictive eating feels like a form of control for those suffering from the loss of bodily autonomy during the abuse. Additionally, substance use and addiction are often a way for survivors to numb their feelings and escape from the pain of their trauma.

In terms of physical consequences, sexual abuse has been known to impact the cognitive abilities of teens. Survivors have reported facing difficulty concentrating or focusing when doing schoolwork or even during social interactions. Some sexual abuse survivors may struggle with physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches. 

Apart from the physical symptoms, the psychological trauma from sexual abuse may take the shape of risky behavior in teens, such as substance abuse, cutting, self-harm, or dangerous driving. Teens may engage in sexually dangerous behaviors as a way to cope with the pain of the abuse, leading to issues like sexually transmitted infections or unintended pregnancies. 

Talking to Your Teen and Adolescent About Sexual Abuse

It is important to educate your children about sex, and teach them about consent and what a ‘bad touch’ means and feels like. The first step in talking to your teen or adolescent about sexual abuse is providing them with age-appropriate information about what constitutes inappropriate contact, unwanted advances, and coercion. Explain to them what kind of behavior is not okay and should be reported. You should also emphasize that they should never feel pressured into engaging in any activity that does not feel right or comfortable. Discuss the importance of consent in relationships, and make sure your child understands how to draw boundaries in relationships. 

When it comes to taking and sharing photos, let your children know that what they share with friends or strangers could potentially become public, and may lead to dangerous situations. Encourage them to be assertive and stand up for themselves when they feel uncomfortable or when someone attempts to touch them without their permission. Remind them that they never need to explain saying no. You may also want to help them understand that they should never have to engage in any physical or sexual act to feel accepted or loved. 

Lastly, make sure you create an environment and a relationship where your children can come to you if they ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe. You should believe your child if they report unwanted touching, regardless of how much you may trust the perpetrator. You should also be supportive and reassure your teenager that they did the right thing by coming forward.

Teen Sex Abuse Case Types We Have Experience With

Sexual predators often seek out jobs that provide them access to and proximity to teenagers. This includes places commonly thought of as safe, such as home, school, church, or sports leagues. Our team of teen sex abuse attorneys at Edwards Henderson has represented countless survivors subjected to sex abuse in a wide range of settings, including:

  • Troubled Teen IndustrySome parents and guardians send teens to residential treatment centers, wilderness programs, and therapeutic boarding schools, unaware of the rampant sexual abuse in the troubled teen industry. Many such facilities hire staff members who may perpetrate sexual violence or are not properly trained in identifying the signs of sexual abuse in teens.
  • School and UniversitiesSchools and universities have a responsibility to protect their students from sexual abuse. Sadly, there have been numerous cases involving teachers and staff members who have abused their positions of authority to take advantage of students. 
  • Youth Sports LeaguesYouth sports leagues are another environment where teens can be vulnerable to sexual predators. Coaches and other adults involved in youth sports leagues may abuse their position to groom teen players for sexual exploitation.
  • Summer Camp: Summer camps may put children in situations where they are away from home and easily targeted by adults looking to take advantage of their vulnerability.
  • Boy Scouts of AmericaThe Boy Scouts of America have had a long history of sexual abuse by adults in positions of power.
  • Hospitals and Psychiatric Treatment Facilities: Abuse may occur at hospitals, psychiatric treatment centers, or other healthcare facilities where teens are particularly susceptible to sexual violence due to their health issues.
  • Religious organizationsTeens are often targeted by clergy members who exploit their trust in religious authority figures. Survivors of clergy sexual abuse suffer from physical abuse as well as from the consequences of spiritual manipulation, loss of faith, guilt, and shame. 
  • Sex TraffickingSex trafficking is a gruesome crime in which minors are sold for profit into sex work. This is often carried out by organized criminal networks that use violence and intimidation to keep their victims under their control.

Sexual assault does not happen in a vacuum. Often, third parties such as schools, universities, hospitals, churches, and other organizations are found to be liable for hiring negligent staff, improperly training staff, and/or covering up sexual abuse in their organizations. 

If you or someone you know is a survivor of teen sexual abuse, contact an attorney who can walk you through the process of filing a civil sex abuse lawsuit to potentially hold your abuser and any enabling third-party organizations responsible for the crime. 

Resources for Teen Sex Abuse Survivors

Survivors of sexual abuse often feel alone and may struggle to talk about their experiences. As a parent or guardian, knowing where to turn for help is crucial if your teen has experienced sexual abuse. Here are some of the helpful resources for teen sex abuse survivors

  • RAINN: RAINN is a national organization dedicated to providing support and resources to sexual assault survivors. RAINN provides a 24-hour hotline and an online chat service where you can chat confidentially with a trained counselor. 
  • NSVRC: The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) provides education, resources, and tools to help prevent and respond to sexual violence, including teen sexual violence.
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: This nonprofit provides resources for understanding and recognizing the signs of child abuse trauma, as well as information on how to access treatment and support for children and adolescents affected by trauma.
  • Safe Horizons 24-Hour Crisis Helpline: This organization offers 24/7 confidential phone counseling and crisis intervention for victims of violence, including sexual violence. 
  • Sexual Assault Kit Initiative: The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) is a national grant program that supports comprehensive reform around sexual assault evidence collection, investigation, and prosecution. SAKI works with state, tribal, territorial, and local jurisdictions to develop protocols for evidence collection and secure funding for test kits. 

Teen Sexual Abuse: FAQs

1. What is Teen Grooming?

Teen grooming is a slow and methodical manipulation tactic that involves an older person exploiting a teenager to gain their trust, often with the goal of engaging in sexual activities. It starts by targeting vulnerable teenagers, forging a connection with them, and then gradually using favors and promises to build trust. Groomers may lure teens with attention, gifts, and favors. Some may use coercion and manipulation to achieve their end goal. Teen grooming can take place in person, online, or through text messages. It is estimated that 50% of child abuse involves sexual grooming. 

2. I Am A Parent. What Are The Signs of Grooming? 

While the signs of grooming may not always be obvious even to adults, it is important for parents to be aware of possible grooming tactics. Signs an adult may be attempting to groom a parent or their child include: 

  • Asking too many questions about your child’s life, such as school and extracurricular activities
  • Offering favors to you or your child 
  • Giving your child gifts or money without reasonable cause
  • Seeking out private or unsupervised time with your child
  • Displaying overly friendly behavior with your child
  • Making inappropriate comments about your child’s physical appearance
  • Flirting with or making sexual innuendos about your child
  • Suggesting your child visit them without your permission 
  • Insisting on spending one-on-one time with your child 
  • Offering to pay for things for your child that you cannot afford 
  • Asking your child to keep secrets from you

3. I Am A Teenager. How Can I Tell if I Was Raped? 

If you think you may have been sexually assaulted, know that you are not alone and help is available whenever you are ready. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel after experiencing rape or sexual assault. As a teenager, you may be unsure whether what happened to you was rape or not. Remember that if you did not give consent, it was rape. Some perpetrators use manipulation, coercion, or threats to sexually exploit a person. If someone used any of these tactics in order to make you engage in sexual activity with them, then it was likely rape.

Note that statutory rape or the act of engaging in a sexual activity with a minor is a crime, regardless of consent. Since the age of consent varies from state to state, it is best to speak to a qualified sexual abuse attorney who can guide you through the best course of action. 

4. I Am A Teenager. How Can I Report Sexual Abuse? 

If you were recently sexually abused, you should consider confiding about the crime to someone you trust, like a parent, teacher, friend, therapist, doctor, or any other person you feel comfortable with. If the person you confided in does not believe your story, you should remember that your experience is real and you can speak to a qualified professional. You may also need to bear in mind that some states have laws requiring certain professionals to report any suspected cases of child abuse to the authorities. 

If you decide to report the abuse, remember to provide information about the perpetrator, including their name and known location, along with a detailed description of the abuse and potential evidence. Teenage sex abuse survivors can remain anonymous and have their names withheld during the investigation. However, it may help to speak up about sexual abuse so you can access the resources you need to protect yourself and also, prevent others from future harm. 

5. How Common is Teen Sexual Abuse?

Sadly, teen sexual abuse is far more common than most people realize. According to the NSVRC, approximately 10 million girls and 791,000 boys ages 12-18 have experienced either rape or attempted rape in the U.S. In addition, research shows that teen sexual violence survivors are prone to re-victimization in adulthood, making it all the more crucial to report such abuse so you may heal from the associated trauma.

The NSVRC also reports that 30.1 percent of survivors of completed rape experienced their first assault between ages 11-17. This data serves to highlight the prevalence of teen sexual abuse and the need for preventative measures. 

6. What is #BreakingCodeSilence? 

#BreakingCodeSilence is a social movement started by survivors of institutional child abuse. Its purpose is to empower troubled teen industry abuse survivors to share their stories, support one another, and demand justice. It gives them a platform to speak out without fear of judgment or retribution. 

The name for the movement Breaking Code Silence is derived from a punishment typical in many programs where troubled youth are sent to endure periods of social isolation and hardship, referred to as Code Silence. This social isolation lasts anywhere from days to months or even years, leading to severe feelings of abandonment, hopelessness, frustration, and separation anxiety. By “breaking the code of silence” and sharing their stories, troubled teen industry survivors have begun to reclaim their voices, affirm and honor each others’ survival stories, and raise awareness on institutional child abuse. 

7. What Are Some of the Helpful Resources for LGBTQIA+ Youth? 

LGBTQIA+ youth are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse due to the presence of homophobia and transphobia prevalent in society. It is crucial that we create a safe space for LGBTQIA+ youth to talk about their experiences so they may seek help if they are in danger of experiencing sexual abuse: 

  1. The Trevor Project: This organization provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQIA+ youth. They have a 24/7 hotline as well as online and text messaging support for those who may be in crisis or need someone to talk to. 
  2. GLAAD: GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) works to accelerate the acceptance of all those who identify as LGBTQIA+ through education and advocacy campaigns. They also have resources and media tools for LGBTQIA+ youth to learn more about sexual abuse prevention. 
  3. Safe Horizon: Safe Horizon is a leading victim assistance organization that provides resources and support for people affected by violence and abuse, including sexual abuse. They also have specific resources specifically designed for LGBTQIA+ survivors of sexual assault. 

8. Can I Report Sexual Abuse Anonymously? 

Yes, you can report sexual abuse anonymously by calling or submitting an online report with the appropriate law enforcement agency or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). 

However, note that the police may still require a statement from the survivor to proceed with an investigation. If you are unsure how to report anonymously, contact a rape crisis center or victim advocacy organization for assistance.

9. What Is the Statute of Limitations for Teen Sex Abuse?

The statute of limitations for civil teen sex abuse lawsuits varies by state. Many states have passed legislation extending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse survivors to file lawsuits, with some states removing the statute of limitations entirely. You can learn more about the laws in your state here.

In 2021, Congress signed into law the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act of 2021 to eliminate the federal statute of limitations for criminal cases of child sexual abuse. Since each state still has its statute of limitations laws regarding civil cases for teen sex abuse, make sure to understand the laws in your state prior to filing a lawsuit.

10. I Cannot Afford A Teen Sex Abuse Lawyer. What Are My Options? 

At Edwards Henderson, we understand the costs associated with filing a lawsuit can be prohibitively expensive. That is why our teen sex abuse lawyers offer their services on a contingency fee basis, meaning you only pay our attorneys if we win your case. We work tirelessly on behalf of our clients and are committed to getting them the justice and compensationthey deserve. 

Contact a Teen Sex Abuse Lawyer Today

If you or a loved one is a survivor of teen sex abuse, remember you are not alone. Our teen sexual abuse attorneys understand the pain and trauma you have gone through, and are here to help you hold the perpetrators responsible for their actions so you may access resources and move forward with your life. 

At Edwards Henderson, we know how painful sexual violence can be and the deep impact it can have on the survivors. Our firm was instrumental in obtaining justice on behalf of Jeffrey Epstein’s teen sexual assault survivors and is committed to helping all sexual abuse survivors seek justice and obtain closure. We understand the unique needs of survivors of teen sex abuse and are ready to help you navigate this difficult situation. Contact us today to discuss your case through a free legal consultation.

Article Sources

  1. Children and Teens: Statistics
  2. Ezra Miller accused of grooming teen with ‘cult-like’ behavior
  3. SERVING TEEN SURVIVORS: A Manual for Advocates
  4. Sexual Abuse
  5. Safe Horizon
  6. About the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative
  7. Teenagers & Sexual Violence
  8. The Breaking Code Silence Movement
  9. The Trevor Project
  10. GLAAD
  11. Child Sexual Abuse: Civil Statutes of Limitations

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