This is the 3rd of

10 conversations

about preventing

child sexual abuse.








Next Conversation:

#4  Behavior and Physical Signs that Might Indicate

Sexual Abuse













Reporting suspected child sexual abuse is everyone's responsibility - whether a mandated reporter or private citizen. If you suspect a child has been sexually abused, contact your local child protective services. To locate the child protective services reporting number in your state, as well as other resources, call Childhelp at 











































Thank you for your commitment to

protecting children.









© 2011, Massachusetts Citizens for Children Inc.


Permission to copy, disseminate or otherwise use information from this report is granted as long as Enough Abuse Campaign/Massachusetts Citizens for Children is identified as the source. 


The next time you see a news story about an individual who was arrested for child sexual abuse or on child pornography charges, listen carefully to the words of neighbors and colleagues who are asked by the media for their reaction.  You will often hear words like, “We are shocked. He was so nice.” or “All the kids liked him.”   


Get rid of the notion that people who sexually abuse children look and act differently than you do.  Individuals who sexually abuse children can be socially adept and even charming. Most are considered by those around them to be loyal friends, good employees and responsible members of the community. But remember, public appearance does not always reflect private behavior. 


In a process called “grooming”, those who sexually abuse children often go to great lengths to appear trustworthy and kind, not only to the children they target and eventually victimize but also to their parents and other adults around them. Grooming a child and family gradually over time allows them to build trust and gain access to their target while appearing to be above reproach or suspicion.


Because of their skills at manipulation and deception, there is no foolproof checklist of behaviors that will definitely spot a potential child sexual abuser. Contrary to popular belief, there is no one profile, which fits all abusers. This makes it very difficult to immediately distinguish them from others who interact with your kids. However, by gaining insight into the ways abusers think and the strategies they use, parents, caregivers, and youth-serving professionals can learn to be more vigilant in protecting the children in their care.


Remember that these behaviors, when taken alone or together, don’t predict sexual abuse. However, according to research conducted by Stop It Now!, the behaviors described below were identified as warning signs or an indication that you may need to begin asking some questions.


Have you seen these behavior signs in adults who interact with your children?

  • Doesn’t appear to have a regular number of adult friends and prefers to spend free time interacting with children and teenagers who are not his own.
  • Finds ways to be alone with a child or teen when adults are not likely to interrupt, e.g. taking the child for a car ride, arranging a special trip, frequently offering to baby sit, etc.
  • Ignores a child’s verbal or physical cues that he or she does not want to be hugged, kissed, tickled, etc.
  • Seems to have a different special child or teen friend of a particular age or appearance from year to year.
  • Doesn’t respect a child’s or teen’s privacy in the bathroom or bedroom.
  • Gives a child or teen money or gifts for no particular occasion.
  • Discusses or asks a child or teen to discuss sexual experiences or feelings.
  • Views child pornography through tapes, photographs, magazines or the Internet. In addition to being an important behavioral sign, possessing, viewing and/or selling child pornography is a criminal offense and should be reported.

Important points to remember are that people who sexually abuse children are experts at gaining our confidence. They look for situations where they can have easy access to children. Sometimes, they do this by choosing work that will give them “cover” at schools, youth groups, sports teams and other places where children live and play. 


Sometimes, they work to establish relationships with adults first so they will eventually gain access to their children.  Some abusers become involved with women just so they can gain access to their girlfriend’s children. Be careful and slow in choosing the people you allow into your family’s circle of trust and be ready to exclude someone from that circle at the first indication they might be unsafe.




There’s little I can do to reduce the risk

my child will be sexually abused.


False.  Parents can definitely reduce the risk of sexual abuse by being educated about behavior signs in adults that might indicate they pose a risk to a child. Since more than 80% of sexual abuse incidents occur in one-adult/one-child situations, you can reduce the risk substantially by reducing opportunity. Carefully consider any situation that places your child alone with an adult in an unsupervised situation. Support activities for your child that can occur in a group setting where there are several adults present. If your child must be left alone with an adult while you’re away, arrange for someone to drop in unexpectedly from time to time.



  1. Learn how sexual abusers think and become familiar with the tactics they use.
  2. Increase supervision and reduce one-adult/one-child situations.
  3. Don’t become anxious or paranoid – that won’t do you or your child any good. Instead be quietly vigilant and observe the behavior of adults around your child. Notice if his or her behavior changes, e.g. gets upset or gets quiet or withdrawn, when they are around a particular person. 
  4. Remember to look beyond the individual who may appear nice, friendly, trusting and focus instead on their behavior. 
  5. If you get an uneasy or nagging feeling, don’t dismiss it. Trust your instincts.  Ask your child how they feel when they are around that person. Let the adult know that you don’t take your child’s safety for granted. When you do that, you send a message to potential abusers that your child is not an easy target.