PO BOX 5079 (51102)
SIOUX CITY, IA (51105)


Protecting the Innocent

By Colleen Sulsberger
Protecting the Innocent

The most difficult interviews to watch in the VIRTUS training videos are those where the young victims explain how they tried to tell their families what was happening to them and how their cries for help were not taken seriously.

Abusers use many tactics to convince their victims not to tell, and very young children may not have the language capability to make an adult understand what is happening. Adults must educate themselves to recognize the abused child. Here are a few behavioral signs of possible abuse:

• Moodiness, aggressiveness, unexplained drop in grades, poor hygiene, dirty, stained clothing
• Frequent touching or scratching of the genital area, unusually frequent sexual touching of themselves or others in public, difficulty walking or sitting.
• Overly mature appearance, behavior, or knowledge of sexual topics or use of sexual “slang” words
• Deliberate physical abuse (cutting, scratching etc.) to one’s self
• Acting out sexual behaviors with other children or with toys.
Physical signs that a parent or care giver might notice include:
• Bruising, bleeding, or tearing around the mouth, vagina, or anus
• Recurring urinary tract infections or sexually transmitted diseases.
• Wetting or soiling the bed in a child old enough to use the toilet
• Blood stained undergarments or rashes, itching, redness, unusual odors, or other signs of trauma in the genital area
• Unexplained increase in health-related complaints like headaches, stomachaches and other physical complaints.
Other behavioral indicators also exist. These include:
• Unexplained changes in sleeping patterns, such as difficulty sleeping (insomnia) or increased sleeping, recurrent nightmares or sudden fear of the dark.
• Crying or complaining for no apparent reason, or unexplained fear of a particular adult or a certain few adults
• Withdrawal from peers or sudden preference for adult companionship.
• Poor self-esteem or poor self image.
• Excessive bathing.

Many of these behaviors alone do not indicate abuse, but several of them combined with physical signs might. The best policy is to keep our eyes open, and act on our feelings of concern, rather than ignoring them.

If you think you are seeing a child in need of help, share your concern with a teacher, clergy person, parent, or colleague. Chances are you are not the only adult who has noticed the child, and together you can work to ensure the child’s safety.

Contact the Safe Environment office at 712 233 7517 or e mail Colleen at

(Sulsberger is the Safe Environment Coordinator for the Diocese of Sioux City. Contact the Safe Environment office at (712) 233-7517 or e-mail Colleen at


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