News that a boy’s severe stomach pain led to the conviction of a serial child molester in Georgia recently is a reminder that adults need to be aware of common signs that a child has been abused or traumatized. And when something just doesn’t add up regarding a child’s condition, either visibly or after the child tells you something is wrong, take it seriously – ask questions, investigate and consider seeking medical help for the child. If you suspect a child has been abused, you can also contact law enforcement or a local child protection agency.
In December 2016, a 15-year-old boy’s stomach pain was so unbearable that he ended up in an Atlanta hospital, according to a story in the Columbus, Georgia, Ledger-Enquirer. While at the hospital, the boy told his sister that his relative sexually abused him at the family’s home eight months earlier. At his sister’s urging, the boy reported the abuse to his parents and hospital medical staff. “It turned out his abuse-induced anxiety was severe enough to trigger the horrible stomach pains,” according to the story.
The boy’s abuser, Fernando Valentine, 35, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the abuse on May 26 after a four-day trial. Prosecutors said Valentine is a serial abuser. Once the boy came forward, two more victims, including his own sister, revealed Valentine sexually abused them when they were children. At the trial, medical staff from the hospital testified that “stomach pains in children can often be related to anxiety over stressors in a child’s life,” according to the Ledger-Enquirer story.
In fact, studies have shown that abused children are more likely to suffer unexplained abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting. There are many other signs of child abuse that adults should be aware of, as well, because children who have been sexually abused often avoid telling anyone about it, due to shame, fear, guilt, or any number of other reasons.
You can become educated on signs of child abuse. There are many sources of good information about child abuse, causes and symptoms, such as Psychology Today. Another good source is The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (“RAINN”), which provides warning signs of abuse to look for in young children, teens and college-age persons. There are signs common to teens and college-age persons, such as depression, self-harming, sexually transmitted infections (“STI”) and use of drugs and alcohol, among others. Signs for young children can include STI, genital-area trauma, bed wetting and avoidance of removing clothing to change or bathe, among others. You should review the signs specific to each age group to develop awareness and increase the odds of recognizing them in a young person you know if the situation arises.
Remember, if something doesn’t seem right, trust your instincts. It is better to ask and be wrong than to let a young person struggle with sexual abuse.
If you are a victim of sexual abuse, there are resources available to help you. In Minnesota, advocacy programs in your area are just a call away and are dedicated to helping survivors and those traumatized by unhealthy relationships seek safety and be safe. Check www.rapehelpmn.org/find-help/ for an advocacy program in your area. Further, nationally, you can seek help through the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (“RAINN”) https://www.rainn.org/get-help, or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-4673.