Dodging the Bulletin highlights important topics, real-life cases, and helpful guidance and ideas to keep employees and organization safe.

Keeping Our Children Safe: Warning Signs of Perpetrators and Child Victims of Sexual Violence

This article is Part 1 in a 5-part series on keeping our children safe. Each month, we will introduce important topics regarding child sexual abuse and molestation that are either commonly misunderstood or rarely discussed.

This first article focuses on 2 topics:

  1. The warning signs of child sexual abuse or molestation in minors
  2. Warning signs of perpetrators of child sexual abuse

 This article will cover warning signs for the 6 following areas:

  1. Online sexual abuse
  2. Child sexual exploitation
  3. Grooming
  4. Sexual abuse or molestation in young children
  5. Sexual abuse or molestation in older children or teens
  6. Adults or older children/teens who may be sexual perpetrators

Please note this article pertains only to the warning signs for minors who are victims of sexual abuse or molestation. If you are looking for warning signs of adult perpetrators and victims of violence, please refer to that specific webpage and training video.

This is not an exhaustive list of warning signs. Observing these signs, may not mean, in and of itself, a child is a victim of sexual molestation or abuse. It is important to teach your child these warning signs, keep an open dialogue with them, and document everything you see and hear. Use your good judgment and common sense when it comes to determining if any of these warning signs, either individually or in totality, are enough cause of concern.

If you see or hear something that is concerning, please report the conduct to the proper authorities or your local law enforcement agency right away. Trust your instincts. Even if it turns out the conduct you reported is incorrect, you can never be too safe when it comes to preventing sexual abuse of a child.

You may notice some warning signs are repeated under multiple categories. This was done purposely to understand some signs do not apply to just one category, they may apply to multiple. As you read these various categories, you may have questions. Part II of this series will cover the definitions of each category below, in more detail.

Finally, some warning signs are graphic in nature and may be disturbing. Please take care while reading.

The first category is warning signs of online sexual abuse. Be aware if a child exhibits any of the following:

  • Anxiety or struggling to concentrate on projects or schoolwork
  • Feelings of shame and guilt
  • Sexual behavior inappropriate for the child’s age
  • Sudden, unexplained personality changes and mood swings
  • Spending increasing amounts of time on the internet
  • Becoming increasingly secretive – particularly around their use of technology. This can include shutting the door and hiding what they have on screen when someone enters the room.
  • Not being able to talk openly about their activity online
  • Becoming possessive of their phone and concerned if someone else picks it up or wants to look at it.
  • Agitated behavior when answering their phone and needing to take calls in private.
  • Not wanting to be alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior.

The 2nd category is warning signs of child sexual exploitation. Some things that could indicate a child is being sexually exploited include:

  • Having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Staying out late or overnight
  • Having a new group of friends
  • Missing from home or stopping going to school or college
  • Hanging out with older people, other vulnerable people or in antisocial groups
  • Involved in a gang
  • Involved in criminal activities like selling drugs or shoplifting

 The 3rd category is warning signs of grooming. The warning signs if a child is being groomed are not always obvious. Some warning signs may include:

  • Being secretive about how they are spending their time, including when online
  • Having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Having money or new things like clothes and mobile phones they cannot or will not explain
  • Underage drinking or drug taking
  • Spending more, or less, time online or on their devices
  • Being upset, withdrawn, or distressed
  • Sexualized behavior, language, or an understanding of sex not appropriate for their age
  • Being afraid of certain people, places, or situations
  • Spending more time away from home or going missing for periods of time

The 4th category is warning signs of sexual molestation or abuse in young children. This section is broken down into 3 parts: physical signs, behavioral signs, and emotional signs.

Physical Signs

  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Signs of trauma to the genital area, such as unexplained bleeding, bruising, or blood on sheets, underwear, or other clothing
  • Trouble walking or sitting
Behavioral Signs

  • Excessive talk about or knowledge of sexual topics
  • Keeping secrets
  • Not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior
  • Regressive behaviors or resuming behaviors they had grown out of, such as thumb-sucking or bedwetting
  • Overly compliant behavior
  • Sexual behavior inappropriate for the child’s age
  • Spending an unusual amount of time alone
  • Trying to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe
  • Expressing concern about genitalia
  • Reluctance to go back to a certain location
  • Self-harming behaviors
Emotional Signs

  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in mood or personality, such as increased aggression
  • Decrease in confidence or self-image
  • Excessive worry or fearfulness
  • Increase in unexplained health problems such as stomach aches and headaches
  • Loss or decrease in interest in school, activities, and friends
  • Sleep disturbances, nightmares, or fear of being alone at night

The most important thing to keep in mind when looking for signs of child sexual abuse is to keep an eye on sudden changes in behavior. Trust your gut and do not ignore your feelings. If a child tells you someone makes them uncomfortable, even if they cannot explain specifics, listen.

The 5th category is warning signs of sexual molestation or abuse in older children or teens. Some warning signs a teen has been sexually assaulted or abused can easily blend in with the everyday struggles teens face as they learn how to relate to their bodies, peers, and environments. If something does not seem right, trust your instincts. It is better to ask and be wrong than to let a teen struggle with the effects of sexual assault. Remind them if they come to you, you will always believe them, and if something happened, it is not their fault.

If you notice the following warning signs in a teen, you should immediately reach out to them:

  • Unusual weight gain or weight loss
  • Unhealthy eating patterns, like a loss of appetite or excessive eating
  • Signs of physical abuse, such as bruises
  • Sexually transmitted diseases or other genital infections
  • Signs of depression, such as persistent sadness, lack of energy, self-isolation, changes in sleep or appetite, or withdrawing from normal activities
  • Anxiety or worry
  • Falling grades
  • Changes in self-care, such as paying less attention to hygiene, appearance, or fashion
  • Expressing thoughts about suicide or other self-harming behavior
  • Drinking or drug use
  • Unusual interest in or avoidance of sexual topics
  • Hostility or aggressive behavior
  • Secretiveness
  • Seductive behavior
  • Reluctance to go back to a location they previously enjoyed
  • Spend more or much less time than usual online, texting, gaming, or using social media
  • Seem distant, upset, or angry after using the internet or texting
  • Have many new phone numbers, texts or email addresses on their mobile phone, laptop, or tablet

Open communication can be a challenge with teens, and it is an important part of keeping them safe. As teens become more independent and spend more time with friends and other activities, it is important to keep the lines of communication open and let your teen know they can trust you and can always come to you with any problem or question.

The 6th and final category are warning signs an adult who may be sexual predator. Keeping children safe can be challenging because many predators who sexually abuse children are in positions of trust. This includes family members, members of faith communities, coaches, and teachers. A predator may not be just an adult. It can be another child or teen.

Be cautious of an adult or older child/teen who spend time with children and exhibits the following behaviors:

In General

  • Does not respect boundaries or listen when someone tells them “no”
  • Engages in touching that a child or child’s parents/guardians have indicated is unwanted
  • Tries to be a child’s friend rather than filling an adult role in the child’s life
  • Does not seem to have age-appropriate relationships
  • Talks with children about their personal problems or relationships
  • Spends time alone with children outside of their role in the child’s life or makes up excuses to be alone with the child
  • Often has a “special” child friend that is the focus of their attention
  • Expresses unusual interest in child’s sexual development, such as commenting on sexual characteristics or sexualizing normal behaviors
  • Gives a child gifts without occasion or reason
  • Spends more time with your child or another child you know
  • Restricts a child’s access to other adults
Sexual Interactions

  • Links sexuality and aggression in language or behavior, such as sexualized threats, insults, or using words such as “whore” or “slut”
  • Masturbates so often that it gets in the way of important day-to-day activities
  • Has an interest in sexual fantasies involving children and seems unclear about what is appropriate with children?
  • Looks at child pornography
  • Asks adult partners to dress or act like a child or teen during sexual activity
  • Exhibits a lack of personal safety and/or responsibility
  • Has been known to make poor decisions while misusing drugs or alcohol
  • Justifies behavior, defends poor choices or harmful acts, and/or blames others for his/her behavior
  • Minimizes hurtful or harmful behaviors when confronted, denies harmfulness of actions or words despite a clear negative impact

Remember, this is not an all-inclusive list. There are many additional warning signs that may indicate a child is a victim of sexual abuse or molestation, or an adult (or other child) may be a perpetrator.

Clients are encouraged to reference their SML resources and to contact the subject matter experts with any questions.


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For any questions, group discounts, or exhibit booth and sponsorship opportunities, please email

A generic job application is fine for us to use. We get all the important information during the interview.

Job applications are one of the most important tools an employer has when recruiting employees who will not be a liability for your organization. It is important for employers to ensure every applicant completes one, and applications remain up to date with state law.

In addition to standard job applications section such as employment, education, and references, amongst others, it is best practice for a job application to have statements at the end that an applicant is required to individually initial. Having these statements and requiring the applicant to initial each, will not only help avoid issues of not only negligent hiring, but put the applicant on notice that a background check will likely be conducted, and if harmful material information is discovered at any point during a pre- or post-hire background check, they can be immediately terminated.

Examples of statements to be included, depending on your state’s law, include:

  • Statement requiring the applicant to provide proof of legal authorization to work.
  • Certification the applicant has not knowingly withheld any information, the information provided on the application are true and correct, and a statement that any omission or misstatement of material fact shall be grounds for rejection of the application or immediate termination.
  • Authorization for the employer to thoroughly investigate all references, work record, education and other matters related to suitability for employment.
  • Understanding nothing contained in this application or interview is a contract for employment and any employment is at-will.
  • Acknowledgement the employer may obtain and investigate a consumer report about the applicant, with a list of types of reports that may be pulled, and a statement that any job offer is contingent upon receipt of a favorable consumer or investigative consumer report.
  • Understanding any offer of employment is conditioned upon taking and passing a post-offer/pre-employment drug test, and if necessary for the position, a post-offer/pre-employment medical examination, with a statement that any refusal will result in the offer being immediately withdrawn; and
  • Bold or all-capitalized statement that the applicant has read, understood, and accepts all conditions of employment.

Clients have access to resources like sample job applications and subject matter experts to answer concerns about hiring.