The Signs of Sexual Abuse

MBCowan, 10

Look at his eyes. In 1955 there was no understanding or discussion of sex-abuse. The therapists at the time – neo-Freudians – treated incest as a fantasy, regardless of the facts.

Neatly tucked into drive theory and Oedipal complex, the child was believed to lust after the opposite sex parent and would outgrow it. From this came the distorted belief that children wanted “it” and if they had any pleasure at all from “it”, well, there you have it!

I wanted my mother to protect me from my father raping me and failing to do so, I was left to my own devices.  I dissociated, developed tics, rage, and went to extremes to protect myself from the world. I lit fires and felt relief playing with matches. I carried knives and wanted a gun. We are talking ten-year-old here. I had repressed all memories and made up reasons why I behaved as I did.

Adolescence found me in trouble at school and nearly failing. I took to gambling, carried a choke chain to protect myself, drew tattoos on my arms with ink pens, smoked and barricaded my door at night. The onset of migraines began and my violent outbursts continued.

After graduating college with a bachelor’s degree, I was unable to keep jobs, had a failed marriage, turned to alcohol, experienced deep rage, debilitating migraines, anxiety attacks, terror when alone, and having spent everything I had on therapists to no avail, I went to graduate school and became a therapist.

There is more to my story by far, and my real therapy and real recovery came when I went to prison for seven-years and completed the five-year Sex Offender Treatment Program.

I know the signs and symptoms of abuse and put these here to help parents identify them.


Your child has unexplainable crying spells and angry outbursts. She has returned to bedwetting. She is hurting your cat and sets fires. She vomits on the way to day-care and locks herself in her bedroom. These are major signs of sex abuse. Although other traumatic events can cause these, they are top indicators of molest. Your child may not tell you.

A child will remain silent because he believes the abuse is his fault and fears punishment for having done bad things or telling. He may fear no one will believe him, and once told, there will be no one to protect him from the pedophile.

The child forms a secret, locks it away inside to fester, pretends it is not happening, and lives her life in dread. Changes in her personality and behavior are often cries for help.

When a child displays knowledge too advanced for her age, such as sexual talk, sexual drawings, and demonstrating sex on dolls and puppets, or has night terrors, refuses to be touched or avoids a particular person – even a parent – she is showing major signs of sex abuse.

The physical symptoms of sexual abuse are bloody underwear, covering or protecting the genitals, genital bruising, overly concerned with the genitals, vomiting, stomach-aches, physical complaints without basis, body twitching, headaches, fatigue, difficulty in going to the bathroom, complaints of painful excretion, frequent accidents, and sudden weight changes.

The adolescent is always an exception. Moodiness and sexual pre-occupation are par for their developmental course. Teen’s sexual interest and behavior are neither abnormal nor precocious. Consider their extent and in combination with other behaviors.

Anorexia, bulimia and overeating are red flags and high on the list for signaling sex abuse. Teens, particularly girls, pile on the pounds as a way of becoming unattractive to the offender and putting a wall of protection around herself. Eating disorders can result in death and may indicate other problems.

Be alert for cutting and self-mutilation along with delinquent behaviors and rages. Talk with your child and get professional help.

Over-dressing in layers of clothes (long sleeve shirts and sweaters in summer) are ways of hiding her body to protect herself from being touched. “You can’t get through my clothes.”

Look for running away from home, abuse of drugs and alcohol and problems in school. Suicide threats or attempts are an emergency requiring immediate attention of professionals.

If you see any of these, talk with your child and get a professional evaluation from someone licensed and specially trained in both children and sex abuse.

Whatever the problem and cause, the stakes are too high to ignore them.

More information on this subject is in my book, The Parent’s Guide to Protecting Children from Pedophiles.

Originally appeared at Yahoo! Contributor Network.

About MBCowan

"The author holds a masters degree in social work, is a recovering sex offender and a victim of child sex abuse. He is a resident of Tennessee and a public speaker on the prevention and eradication of child sex abuse. His recent book is The Parent's Guide to Protecting Children from Pedophiles. “I know how pedophiles think. I know what they do. And I know how to stop them!” .  


  1. I feel what Eden is saying…..not easy!!

    • It is very painful and is the trauma that is caused by the abuse. Such is the horror inflicted on victims. Not easy, but necessary to live a healthy and happy life. The fear of revealing this goes back to the fear of “telling” and the fear of “being bad” or not believed or being punished and unprotected. and any number of terrifying beliefs.

      The way out is the way through – we are now adults, no longer helpless. Take your power back. Claim it.

      There are lots of supportive, safe places to heal.

  2. So I’m assuming the answer is no. There is no way to cope without going back. I’d rather close that door again than face what’s behind it. Thank you for your time.

    • Curatio Justicia says:

      My heart goes out to you Eden and I do understand where you are coming from. It’s as if the trauma and flashbacks return and you keep shutting that door in your mind hoping that it will go away. We have found that putting a lid on traumatic memories is a wonderful coping mechanism but only for the short term in order to cope. It also has a biological effect which can cause long term stress on your body even many, many year after. I would also encourage you to seek healing rather then just coping. We have been party to some great testimony stories of woman being empowered because of the healing process. I know it’s scary and pray that you are surrounded by a supportive environment/people who can help you through it – but only when you’re ready to do so.

  3. I’m not sure what to say here…I stumbled across this while researching for myself. From ages 5-15 I experienced hell, and that is an understatement. I guess I want to know, when does it end? I’m 20 now, and only one other soul knows, but only very little. I don’t want to talk it out, or have to deal with it head on. I guess I’m wondering, are there ways to cope without going back?

    • Eden, I was just composing an article on this when your comment arrived. In short answer to your question “are there other ways to cope?” I ask why cope when you can heal? Coping is what victims do – we “cope” rather than say “STOP!” And so long as you keep this a secret you are protecting the person or persons who harmed you. This gives that person free reign to go on and molest other children.

      When does it end? Depends on how much healing you do and how you break the cycle. It may not end for the offender until s/he is stopped.

      Talking it out is like vomiting a bad dinner, yet, it we don’t, it poisons us. I highly suggest you seek professional help with a qualified therapist trained in this. You can share the horror slowly and over time, as you are able, and in a safe environment, where you can pull yourself together and regain the sense of self and power that was taken from you. Remember, if was not your fault and you are not responsible for any consequences that befall a person who rapes and harms children.

      I wish you the best of health, happiness and healing in your recovery,


  4. I weep as I read your reply to me. Yes, the ability to forgive does set one free, otherwise it is a cancer that eats you up until you die from it. You are a good man. I will always keep my eyes open to help a child based on your stats and will buy your book.


  5. Debra, my childhood is only one of many, and I so appreciate your kind words. Once my rage dissipated I was able see that my parents were also victims. There was no treatment or even acknowledgment of “Sex-abuse” when they were children (circa 1906). We are only now beginning to speak of it.

    Justice has been done by my recovering and learning to heal so I may share my story so others may heal. Justice is done by your loving-kindness, and please – sleep – so you can be rested and find strength to help others.

    My parents were tormented. My father dissociated, suffered asthma and struggled to breathe, dying a slow and painful death from cancer. My mother experienced lifelong flashbacks, psychotic episodes and in sleep, clawed a hole in her headboard.

    They deserved better. Thank you for such compassion.


  6. Dear MBGowan:
    I admire your strength and your courage and the fact that you can share what happened to you is a tremendous act of love towards others, you are letting people know that this is happening and it needs to be stopped! In saying this, I felt deep pain and sorrow for your experience and that no human being should have to be subjected to this horrendous evil, especially a loving, trusting, child and from your own parents! It was hard to wrap my mind around it, as it hurt me deeply to know know you had to suffer this as young innocent child. I could not sleep last night thinking about it. I can not even begin to image how you have suffered. Please tell me that you got some kind of justice even though they were your biological progenitors?

  7. wet_suit_one says:

    Godspeed lads. It is the work of the Good that you are doing. I salute you.

  8. I’m with you on any and all efforts to end it. My writing and media presence will continue to be for the survivors and society. I’m anxious to read about the Myths of The Offenders.

    I agree with your observations regarding the proportion of the population being abused. Just in my anecdotal evidence and that of many observers around me, we come up with 70% quite easily.

    I never expected that we will stop it all, as we will never overcome isolated kids, isolated social segments and the underground world of child-on-child assault (as what got me), and the just plain evil ones. I DO however expect society to march forward to allowing survivors and victims to heal no matter what may come our way.

    Discrimination and all-around rotten treatment of victims by society is a sign of many disturbing factors that I’ll dig into in future articles, but I accept none of them and will work till my last breath to end them.

    BTW: I did not want to say it earlier, but your 10-yo photo says it all. It shook me to my core…and I cry for that boy.

  9. Rob – Neither. And maybe. Recently I had occasion to speak with a guy in a work situation. He was having a real bad day and shared his depression. I replied that I suffered many of his symptoms, the underlying cause was my being sexually abused as a child.
    He was silent then tearfully shared that he, too, had been abused and never told anyone until now. He is around fifty-years old and retained his memories. His abuse was never reported to anyone and he is another unknown statistic. I retrieved a copy of my book and gave it to him with a suggestion to get professional help.
    This is a long answer to your question.
    People cannot put a stop to something they have yet to deal with and I claim: That 80% of all females have been sexually abused; that 70% of all males have been sexually abused. Until the majority of victims openly talk about it and have no more secrets, child abuse will be shrouded in secrecy.
    So, yes, I think as we evolve and topics become open, we will understand the nature of horrific things and then we can do something about it.
    We are doing something about it now. You, me, all the other men who are sharing. Not that long ago, this was so shameful we never would have put this on a world-wide web.
    Things are getting better. My next article is going to be on “How To Spot The Offender”. I am also considering a short article on Myths of Child Offenders. And I would like to do a write-in column with questions and answers so people can participate in a community of healing and understanding. Join me?

    • This is such a wonderful article and would encourage you to write about the “Myths of Child Offenders”. The statistics are escalating, where now 1 in every 2 females are predicted to be sexually abused. While we need to certainly support victim services, one must question whether the root cause has been addressed along the cycle from the entry of thought patterns to the decision to act by the offender. Are we brave enough as a society to implement strategies that tackle the entry components?

      Academic research provides evidence that understand the offenders and providing counter-active strategies from addressing influencing factors, will impact on the long term safety of our communities and families. A reformative approach to tackling the issue of child sex abuse would require an alternative and sustainable method which are in pockets around the world but with limited funding.

      We can learn from reformed offenders who are more likely to disclose and bring light to giving inside information about the how and the why. Only then can we and the judicial system implement strategies to minimize future acts, turning knowledge into a source of powerful reform.

      • mbcowan says:

        Curatio Justicia,
        Tempis fugit. “Myths of Child Offenders” is in progress.

        What I thought would be such a simple task …

        The root cause – yes. And a nice beginning is to eliminate the term “pedophile” which in the DSM 1V R is classed under paraphilia and says nothing more than inclusive, exclusive, has urges and or acted out blah blah blah. End.

        I am working with a psychologist who is active in the forthcoming DSM V in a new diagnosis for those who molest or have prolonged sexual urges with children. The new diagnosis proposed is under Posttraumatic stress disorder, subset Sexually Abused Child Syndrome, (a) fantasy and urges over a 6 month period (b) sexual activity with a child

        Along with that is a lengthy clinical description of the individual’s traits and background including features of obsessive compulsive behavior. With this, we now have the picture of a human being who is in dire need of treatment.

        The behavior and thinking of the person with SACS is detailed in my book. And yes, we must get our wish to “punish” over to “help recover and treatment” to ever be effective. Thanks for your concern.

        • Looking forward to the outcome of your projects.

          We work with SACS but not in the USA. It’s a similar program and the Curatio Justicia Project works with these types of acts that have occurred within the family. Our aim is to strengthen the bond between mother’s and daughters which has been affected by the grooming tactics and trauma that has occurred. This does require us to also see the offenders side in order to provide a holistic approach.

          These wonderful brave mother’s carry the burden of not only their child’s trauma but also the rehabilitation process of the offender. In their eyes, what an offender looks like … is not what we see in the media.

          Please keep us informed how you’re tracking and if you require other sources of assistance. We are currently on twitter.

          Well wishes.

  10. From one survivor to another…do you think modern society will keep progressing toward ending Child Sex Abuse, or are the past 30 year a weak attempt at being “better” creatures?

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