What are possible signs of sexual abuse in toddlers?

Here, a worried mom is asking, and there is another case discussed in the comments section. Feel free to share if you have experiences or thoughts on this topic.

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Mom’s Question:

What are the signs of sexual abuse in children under the age of two?

Signs Of Sexual Abuse In Toddlers

There are many signs that can indicate sexual abuse in toddlers, although it is, of course, not certain that any abuse is occurring just because of the presence of one or a few signs.

Some important signs to look for are:

  • The child is behaving sexually in a way that can’t be expected for his or her age.
  • The child becomes aggressive or very passive and withdrawn, depending on personality.
  • Physical trauma in the genital or anal areas
  • Abnormally dilated of vaginal or rectal openings
  • Pain in these areas

There are many other possible signs as well.

Identifying sexual abuse in young children can be hard. Although they may exhibit some of the above symptoms, these are not conclusive for sexual abuse, and according to research (reference below), many sexually abused children do not show any symptoms at all.

Based on how you phrase your question, it sounds like you are worried that your toddler has been sexually abused, but you are not sure. I would advise you to seek help by calling a domestic helpline as your first step. They can help you with a first assessment of the situation, and explain what your next steps should be. Also, document any signs of sexual abuse in your toddler.

There are some other threads here at Easy Baby Life dealing with similar situations. You might find it useful to read these discussions too:

I really wish you good luck and sincerely hope that your worries will be confirmed to be wrong.

If anyone has experience with child sexual abuse, please post in the comments below.

Research References

Vrolijk-Bosschaart TF, Brilleslijper-Kater SN, Benninga MA, Lindauer RJL, Teeuw AH. Clinical practice: recognizing child sexual abuse-what makes it so difficult? Eur J Pediatr. 2018 Sep;177(9):1343-1350. doi: 10.1007/s00431-018-3193-z. Epub 2018 Jun 25. PMID: 29938356; PMCID: PMC6096762.

Find comments below.

Comments for “Signs Of Child Sexual Abuse In Toddler?”

Jun 16, 2017

Help me!
by: Anonymous


My nephew is 2 years old. Up until a month ago, he was living with his mother and her live-in boyfriend, who I will just call Tom here.

Tom was verbally, emotionally, & physically abusive to my sister, which she finally admitted to me very recently. She also admitted that Tom hit my nephew so hard on his legs that it left welts. He would spank him for no reason. My sister didn’t stop her boyfriend from hitting her child.

My nephew is now living with me and my mother, but my worry has not dissipated. Although I am his aunt, he calls me “momma” often and his behavior has changed drastically. For instance, he is terrified to be put into bed at night. He does anything to stay out of bed & stay with us. He will scream for hours straight, his voice raw, if we don’t get him.

He was never like this before. Naptime isn’t really a problem. The problem is only at night time – bedtime. He also has grabbed his anus & penis and messed with it a few times. I can not say if this is normal boy curiosity or more? He doesn’t seem to be masturbating, but has called his anus a hole? He knows you put things into holes – like blocks into a toy with appropriately shaped holes.

His attitude has worsened. He gets angry easily, has bouts of rage. I know he is 2 and the developmental stage he has reached outlines this defiance and autonomy as normal patterns of behavior, but he was never this volatile in the past.

He never slapped in the face, or threw things, or ran away from us, spouting curse words that we had no idea he even knew.

I also noted a couple of months ago, when he was still living with his mother & Tom, that after staying with me for the weekend, he was terrified to go back to his mother. He clutched to me and seemed afraid of his mother and Tom. He was clearly terrified, panicked, to go with his own mother. He screamed ‘NO!” and curled his fingers into me. My sister had to forcefully take him from my arms.

He has nightmares. We’ve noticed that he suddenly developed awful nightmares where he thrashes wildly in bed screaming, “NO! NO!”. It’s greatly disturbing to see him gripped by that kind of fear.

So, because I don’t think there’d be any physical trauma anymore, and my sister & Tom will admit nothing I need to know if my fears are valid. I don’t want to put my nephew through something like therapy or a medical examination for nothing, but I fear the day my sister comes to get her son again. Will the abuse start again?

I have no legal rights to keep him from her, even though I have filed a report with the local police department & called DHR. They say I can’t do anything, that my hands are tied if I want temporary or full custody. But if I could somehow get some kind of emotional/psychological proof of his abuse then I might be able to ensure his safety after all.

What should I do? Should I go with my gut feeling that he IS being abused & seek help? If so, who should I go to with my concerns?


Jun 17, 2017

Help for Abused Nephew – Part 1


by: Baby Help Line – Annie Desantis

Dear Anonymous,

What a difficult situation you are in. Your nephew is lucky he has you and your mother as people in his life who are caring and concerned and putting his welfare first.

Your descriptions of his behavior, as you say could also be to some extent normal 2-year-old behavior. Exploring his body, tantrums, nightmares can be expected in a 2-year-old. Of course, I can’t say for sure he has been sexually abused, but clearly he has been physically abused and has experienced traumatic situations that will be difficult for a two-year-old to handle.

The most important thing is not to make the child feel he is wrong, or bad, or dirty. Whether sexually abused or not, he clearly has experienced some inappropriate and destructive behavior and has lost his trust in his Mom. Our parents are supposed to keep us safe, and if she was too frightened to stand up for him, then he has not had the basic right/need of a child; to feel safe and loved.

I am not sure how long he is with you, but he will still need to build some sort of relationship with his Mom. And Mom clearly needs help and support herself to be able to parent him properly. Kids that have experienced abuse or trauma, do much better when the family receives help and support. When they are living with a stressed, abused Mom, then the trauma and effects are compounded for the child.

It is important that he not grow up to be a victim, and learns what is appropriate touching to his body. Anything he feels yuck about he needs to be empowered to speak out and tell someone. A two-year-old doesn’t know about sexual abuse, doesn’t know sexual behavior from an adult is wrong. A 2-year-old does have sexual feelings, and innocent exploring is quite normal, even getting an erection during cuddly play. But if a child has been taught to respond or is sexualized by an adult, then he will have learned behaviors that are inappropriate.

So what can you do? Since you don’t have custody, and I assume that means he can go back to Mom at any time, you are in a difficult position. Now that he is living with you, there may no longer be physical evidence of sexual abuse so a doctor may not be able to decide, but that would probably be your starting point. I am not sure what the services are in your area, but you can probably start by calling child protection services in your area and find out what their procedures are. It is tricky, as you don’t want to put him in the situation of having more trauma with people he doesn’t know, but you also want to be making sure he is going to safe in the future.

Part Two Follows . . . .


Jun 17, 2017

Help for Abused Nephew – Part Two
by: Baby Help Line – Annie Desantis


Part Two . . . . .

At all costs, he needs you as a safe person in his life, and one that he can trust (and he may well be testing you with some of his behavior). You also want to try to encourage and support your sister to get some help or she will get herself in a similar situation with a different relationship. She has opened up to you to admit she didn’t protect him, and I would think she feels bad about herself. Her self esteem will not be in good shape if she has allowed herself to be so badly treated in a relationship. However, if you get offside with her in your efforts to protect him, it could mean her getting defensive and taking him back or not allowing him to see you.

Your nephew needs some stability, He needs to build up trust in adults and needs lots of loving attention. As a 2-year-old, bad behavior or tantrums are best dealt with, by distraction as quickly as possible to head him off. You can use toys to make a game out of whatever you want him to do. A two-year-old can usually be “conned” into compliance by making it a game, be a tickle monster, see how high you can count together as he gets ready for bed, have the teddy do his buttons up.

However, he also needs to be able to express his rage. Rage at feeling it is unfair to have to get his pajamas on may also be expressing rage at other adults who have done things he didn’t want. Just try to be loving but firm, he needs to know he is loved and safe but you also expect him to comply. He has probably had the experience of being smacked or abused when he didn’t do as he was told, and would have felt totally unloved. Kids need to learn that they are loved even when they are naughty, or misbehaving.

If he is being physically violent, you can gently restrain him buy holding him from behind. He can kick and wriggle, but can’t hit or hurt you. It is really important not to get angry back, just hold him as gently as possible and repeat over and over, I know you are angry, I’m just going to hold you so you don’t hurt yourself or anyone. I know you are feeling mad, but it is not OK to hit me, etc. Keep your voice low and calm and as loving as possible under the circumstances. It is actually quite frightening sometimes for a two-year-old to be so far out of control. Their feelings overwhelm them and they physically need to let rip. But what they are learning, is how to get control, and express feelings more appropriately. He can’t do that if someone yells back at him, or if he is hit or spanked into submission. He has witnessed adults raging and lashing out when angry, so he has not learned how to effectively deal with anger.

Part Three Follows . . . . .


Jun 17, 2017

Help for Abused Nephew – Part Three


by: Baby Help Line – Annie Desantis

Part Three . . . .

When he is frightened to go to bed, see if he can verbalize it to you. Keep it light-hearted, maybe use a toy to ask him questions like, Why don’t you want to go to bed? Do you need an extra cuddle? Don’t specifically ask him questions about the past, but if he does mention it just let him explore it, and affirm his feelings. ie, “so it was scary when Tom came into your room at night?” Or “was Tom a bit scary sometimes?” or, “Were you frightened when Mommy was crying?”

Just be careful not to lead him into your suspicions, kids can come up with the answers they think you are looking for, to please you. Just go with how he is feeling and reacting.

Try a night light so it is not so dark. Get him a toy that has special powers – or have him choose which of his toys are his night time power toy. This toy will cuddle him all night long and keep him safe. Just be careful not to give him the impression he is not safe already.

If he can verbalize what scares him at night, then the toy can shoo it away, or shine a bright light into the corners etc. Sometimes an actual torch can be helpful so they can zap the monsters with the light.

Don’t give in to him and get him up all the time or you are reinforcing the tantrum. But he needs to feel safe, so put him to bed and sit quietly in his room with him, tell him you will stay until he goes to sleep. Ask him if he wants to hold your hand, or for you to pat his back. But don’t engage in conversation or negotiation after you have put him to bed. You can give him a drink but just quietly say it’s bedtime, I’ll stay with you, but you have to stay quietly in bed.

It may take a couple of weeks, he has to learn to trust that you are really there for him. That you are not going away, that you mean what you say about bedtime. It is hard to know if his drama is because of real fears about events that have happened in the past, or if he has figured out you respond to his fears and in that sense, you are reinforcing them.

Your nephew has had a tough start in life, and it will take him some time to work his way through it all. He may need professional help to do that, particularly if the situation with you is not permanent. It could also be useful for you to get some help as to the best ways to support him, so getting some family counseling or support could be helpful. If you want to explore the dilemma of whether or not to involve family services, calling one of the anonymous telephone counseling services such as Life-line or Samaritans could be a good starting point.

All the best with your nephew, my heart goes out to you, it is a very tricky situation.

Annie Desantis


Jun 18, 2017

2 yr old nephew- response
by: Anonymous


Thank you so much, Annie! That was encouraging advice and reinforcement that I needed. Bedtime IS hard, but we don’t let him leave the room. We stay with him until he’s asleep. And, thankfully, my sister has agreed to sign over temporary custody to me and we go to start this process on Monday. I am also going to take him to a child therapist to see if some of his fears can be resolved.

I understand that it is difficult to work with children in this case and I have been very careful not to say anything that might be suggestive or lead him to respond in a certain way. I am a senior in college and a Major in Psychology, so I do understand the limitations and cautiousness one must take with a child.

Again, thank you so much for your help. This is indeed a very difficult situation, one I never thought I would be in, but since I am, I want to do what is right for my nephew. -And my sister. We’ve talked and she’s considering talking to someone.

Only time will tell. Much thanks!!!!!!


Jun 18, 2017

Support for Nephew
by: Baby Help Line – Annie



I am so glad you will be getting temporary custody, it does sound like you will be able to provide him with some stability and lots of love.

It is great that your sister is talking to you, and you are able to work together for the best for your nephew. A child needs a relationship with their parents, even if it is not the primary care-giving role. They will have a lot of healing to do to rebuild the trust, and it takes a lot of the pressure off your sister if she can just start with a fun visiting type relationship without the pressure of everyday routines and dramas.

This is a huge responsibility you are taking on, particularly when it sounds like you are still studying. Make sure you also get plenty of support and time out so you are replenished to be able to cope yourself. It will be no good to anyone if you burn out! A two-year-old is pretty full-on at the best of times, but taking on a child who has been traumatized is a much bigger commitment.

You sound like a very wise, grounded young woman, and although this is going to drastically change your life, you will also gain a huge amount of joy back when you build a deep bond with a little one.

Focus on fun, love, and support with this little boy, he needs to balance out the tough times and learn that there are lots of adults that do have his well-being at heart. And of course, having fun will also make it easier for you to weather the stormy times!

All the best,
Annie Desantis


May 16, 2018

nephew needs to be saved
by: Anonymous


I need to know how I can obtain full custody of my nephew. I and my fiance are positive that he is being sexually abused by his two older brothers; he calls them monsters, my nephew is only 3 yrs old and he has told us things that are very disturbing and that’s beside the fact that he has physical evidence of abuse. I’m ready to call cps on my brother but I don’t want my nephew to be taken away, he wants to live with us he tells us that I need to move fast. All the kids are extremely neglected please help what do I do


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Keisha Venice Laspinas

    hi i have a question about my daughter who is 4yrs old. last month she open up a topic that my husband touched her (her stepdad).my mom hears it. but i just ignored it. after few weeks i saw her vulva its red its like rash. so after few weeks i started working and my husband takes care of her while im not around. she has no behaviour changes shes happy one time we went to have a vacation with family in one room and she said daddy dont look. because i was changing her clothes. and just today i was gonna gave her a bath i saw white discharge in her vagian and told her no one can touch ur private part. and i ask her who touched it. she said daddy peek and touched. one time my husband said while i sleep with my daughter .he said my daughter went to bed with him and then comes back again to her bed ( i slept in her bed coz i was tired didnt have time to transfer to our room)and i told him i didnt noticed . i was suspicious. pls help

  2. Paula @easybabylife

    Hi Sally,
    What an extremely difficult situation you are in!

    Generally speaking, the chances that a couple would molest a very young child – or two of them – is very low. It goes beyond doubt that this is a criminal act, and it would be very rare to find a couple engaging in this together.

    What is the reason you think your daughter was molested? The locked door? That your dad was naked? Did you see something bad or has your daughter any physical or emotional signs of abuse? And for your 5-month-old, the red tip, could, of course, be a coincidence or that your dad didn’t change diapers as frequently as you usually do.

    But… child abuse does happen, and of course you need to listen to your gut feelings too!

    It’s been two situations now, where you have a bad feeling about what your parents do. I think this is enough for you to do something about it. One thing is to discuss this through with your children’s dad if it is appropriate and express your worries. Then you can decide together what to do.

    Another thing is to set boundaries around how your parents act together with your children. I really think you should talk to them about that night – that you don’t want them to lock the door when they are with your children and not be in the nude if that’s what you feel. It is your children and you have full rights to set the boundaries around them.

    If you are truly worried that they are abusing your children, then they should not be alone with them at all. The safety of your kids is more important than anything!

    It is impossible for me to say if your children have been abused or not. It is also really difficult to involve authorities as situations can spiral out of control, sometimes without any cause. However, you need to get some help to decide what is the best way to confront your suspicions. Do you have lifeline, or any telephone counseling service in your area that you can talk to?

    I really wish you good luck. Let me know how it goes!