The truth is that no one knows your toddler better than you do. The truth is that your toddler may not be completely verbal at this point, but they are speaking to you. You have a responsibility as their caregiver to not only protect them from all of the obvious dangers, but also educate yourself about the not-so-obvious threats. This is an article that has been on my heart for some time now because it was a lesson that we had to learn the hard way.
Here is our story:
Liliana was two and her personality had shifted for the worse. Our once relaxed, happy, and sweet Lili had become volatile, jumpy, and emotional. I chalked it up to the “terrible twos.” But the truth was, she was acting like that for a reason. She was being sexually abused by a very close family member.
Her abuser, on the surface, was doting– always attentive and affectionate with her. He had always been there for us, totally earning my trust and Lili’s in the process. He was one of her favorite people. So it struck me as odd when she began running away and hiding from him, sometimes yelling at him or just ignoring his interactions altogether. It was literally the opposite of how she’d always been with him, in fact, she’d never been like that with anyone before. I thought she was being mean or simply a “two-year-old”. Those were some of the first cues and tragically, I couldn’t recognize them.
I just had my second child when this family member offered to watch Lili for a bit almost every day. I thought he was doing me a favor so that I could rest, clean, or spend time alone with our newest daughter, Cecilia. After all, he had become our go-to baby-sitter since he lived right downstairs and was always available. This is when the running away and screaming started happening, the nightmares, mood swings, meltdowns, and rashy vagina. An uneasiness started to bubble inside of me, her rash was not going away. It had been getting increasingly worse and I had done everything to remedy it— Dr. visits, creams, tests, changed detergents and soaps, even diaper brands. Nothing helped. I tried everything. Everything but keep her away from this person… It was something I couldn’t fathom nor begin to comprehend as a possibility, but I had to make sure he wasn’t the cause. I kept her away from him for an entire week and by the end of the week, the rash was almost completely healed. In a moment that felt altogether deafening and simultaneously silent, it dawned on me that my daughter was being molested by him. A man we trusted, loved, and honestly never truly knew.
My stomach churned. I googled “signs of sexual abuse in toddlers” and came across this article. I read through the signs and the lead dropped further into my stomach as I recognized each and every one in my baby. I sent the link to my husband and we both cried as the truth punched us one more time in the gut. My mind reeled. I was not equipped to deal with this situation. We got in contact with Dr.’s, DCFS, police, and were failed since there was no physical or verbal (she was only 2) evidence, but the symptoms were definitely there. We did get our children out of there as fast as humanly possible. We protected her the instant we found out and she has never had another rash since. The emotional and spiritual scars on the other hand, have taken some time to heal. We would hold her in her bed nightmare after nightmare while she cried “No” in her sleep and squeezed her legs together. The nightmares came when she was awake too as she would growl, scream, and hit whenever she felt overwhelmed or upset, which was often.
We loved her. Found the strength to love ourselves. And are now finding the courage to love the man who so quietly crafted destruction in our home. Not because we are great people, but because we serve a great God whose comforting presence supernaturally got us through the worst year of our lives with grace, compassion, and purpose. What happened to our daughter grieved God even more than us and I know he led me in wisdom to the truth. It is up to us to raise awareness about this issue and act. I cannot make her abuser admit, repent, nor put him in prison, but I can let you know that this happened. It happens every day. And we have the power to shed a bright light on a profound, silent darkness with our stories of pain and healing.
Every day Lili’s healing reveals itself more alive than before. She dances, laughs, and sings more. Draws, plays, and cuddles more. My baby is restored.
Each of these symptoms on their own may not say much, but combined they speak an awful truth that may go unnoticed if you are not listening. Here is how they manifested in Lili:
- Lili began to scream, run, and hide as soon as her abuser approached her for the play time she used to love
- She began to be very mean and angry towards her abuser
- Diaper changes were traumatic: she would kick, scream, cry, and squeeze her legs together
- She panicked during clothing changes when shirts went over her head
- Night terrors became a common occurrence
- She would randomly lick us, including inappropriate areas while pretending to be a puppy (i.e., inappropriate games)
- Lili became extremely impulsive, possessive, and controlling
- She physically lashed out at other kids
- She would have inconsolable crying fits that were only broken up by fits of rage
- She became extremely fidgety with an aversion to cuddling
- Lili had red, raw irritated vaginal tissue
- She experienced discomfort and pain in her genitals
- She became unwilling to open her mouth for food
- She had no control over her ability to urinate
If your child is displaying any of these signs, I urge you to take action NOW. Here are some tips for reporting based on the mistakes I made:
- When the physical signs are at their worst, take them to get checked out ASAP, even if you have to go to the E.R.
- When DCFS visits you (which they will if your child has a sexual abuse exam, I learned the hard way) tell them EVERY little thing that is going on. Go through the list of signs and write them down beforehand if you have to.
- And finally, don’t tell the abuser that DCFS will be contacting them. It gives them time to prepare their defense.
This brings me to my next point, recognizing a predator. Here are some signs that I wish I would have been aware of:
Someone can be sexually abusing a child and still be a “nice,” functioning member of society. That’s the problem. It isn’t obvious, but if we keep turning a blind eye to the signs and cases that do arise, we are only contributing to the violence. Sexual abuse is violence against the spirit. It doesn’t matter if a child is too young to remember or realize what is happening, real damage is done. Always. I pray that our eyes continue to open together. I declare restoration over every spirit out there that is broken because of this. I believe that our stories matter. And can change the world.