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How do I recognise sexual violence?

How do I recognise sexual violence?

People who have experienced sexual violence react in a variety of ways. It can be difficult to recognise the signs but there are some changes that you may be able to identify.

The way people react may be affected by a range of factors but any of the following may be noticeable:

  • Depression.
  • Increased levels of anxiety.
  • Jumpiness.
  • Withdrawal from social activities.
  • Anger and hostility.
  • Sleeping problems.
  • Relationship breakdown.
  • Eating problems.
  • Sudden weight gain or loss.
  • Poor physical health.
  • Increased use of alcohol and/or drugs. 
  • Difficulties in meeting deadlines or engaging in work.
  • Missing work/school.

Of course, not everyone who is exhibiting one, or more, of these symptoms will have experienced sexual violence. However, any change in behaviour or general demeanour is worth noting and it is always important to consider whether sexual violence could be a possible cause.

If you think that someone is experiencing sexual violence, it is worth checking this out with them. There are a number of organisations which can offer support about options and the help that is available. You can either call the Live Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800 or look at the service directory.

Recognising sexual violence in children and young people

Children and young people who are experiencing sexual abuse may show some of the following signs:

  • Avoiding contact with certain adults.
  • Seeking out time alone with certain adults.
  • They may become sexually active or knowledgeable at a younger age that you would expect.
  • Physical symptoms such as soreness, pregnancy and STIs.
  • Sudden changes in eating habits, binging or refusing to eat.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Sudden mood swings.
  • Drawings of sexual or frightening images.
  • A fear of new places or people.
  • Talking about a new, older, friend.
  • Acting like a much younger child (e.g. bedwetting and thumb-sucking).
  • Inviting other children to play sexual games.
  • Running away.
  • Self harm.
  • Reluctance to be close or touch other people.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse.

Of course, all of these signs may occur for a number of other reasons. A child or young people who exhibits one or more of these changes has not necessarily experienced sexual violence. However, it is important not to wait for ‘proof’ and to identify any concerning patterns or changes in behaviour in order to be able to react appropriately.

If you are unsure about what you are seeing and want to talk to someone confidentially there are a number of specialist organisations in the service directory who can offer support and advice.

If you have concerns for a child contact the NSPCC’s Helpline on 0808 800 5000 –24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  

Call our free and confidential Live Fear Free Helpline:

0808 80 10 800

(Lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)


About Live Fear Free

Live Fear Free is a Welsh Government website, providing information and advice for those suffering with violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence.

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