Sky Full of Light

Warning Signs & Disclosure

Because many children don’t disclose abuse and the people around them miss the warning signs, incest often goes undetected. Here are some important points to know about disclosure and how to develop awareness of the signs of incest.  

Children may or may not disclose incest. Understanding why so many children choose not to tell and how they do disclose is key to good intervention. This article is helpful for understanding child sexual abuse disclosure, and these tips can help us respond in the most helpful way.

Everyone should be aware of incest warning signs so we can keep children protected from abuse. This article contains a very extensive list of physical, behavioral, and emotional signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse, this helpful guide is a primer on recognizing the warning signs of child abuse and neglect in all its forms, and this information on warning signs in children is easily digestible. The information sheet “Recognizing Child Abuse: What Parents Should Know” may also be helpful for learning to recognize child abuse symptoms, including incest.

Child grooming is the process offenders use to gain a victim’s trust and keep the abuse a secret. Those familiar with grooming behaviors can more easily spot a child at risk of incest or one who is already being abused. Darkness to Light’s Grooming and Red Flag Behaviors guide provides a comprehensive list of grooming behaviors that happen from the beginning of incest initiation onward.

It’s common for people to overlook indicators that an adult is sexually abusing a family member. If you are worried about an adult’s behavior with children, Stop It Now has excellent guidance for learning about and responding to these warning signs, including strategies for talking with these adults and setting appropriate boundaries. 

When children are molested by siblings and other family members close to them in age, this is harmful and traumatic to children. Although it’s common for people to assume this behavior is “just play” or experimentation, we should never ignore it, especially when the child has been coerced, forced, threatened, or manipulated. Research shows that victims of abuse by a minor experience similar trauma to those assaulted by adults. This article explores one of the least recognized forms of incest, and this one compares typical and problematic sexual behaviors of children. This brochure called “Traffic Lights” uses a red/yellow/green system for evaluating the sexual behaviors of children.

Males are victims of incest, but are often not recognized as such. Boys who have been abused face additional obstacles to coming forward and being believed. You can read about reactions male incest survivors experience and unique circumstances they face here.

Be aware that adults can also be victims of incest and may not disclose. Molestation doesn’t always stop at 18; it can continue into adulthood or morph into other forms of manipulation and abuse. Even if the overtly sexual part of the abuse has stopped, the emotional and mental abuse may still continue. 

If you are a parent who has learned your child has been molested by a family member, there are resources for helping your child and navigating the process ahead of you. This guide explains best practices for finding and choosing professional help for your family. Stop It Now’s Legal and Advocacy Resources Guide points parents with legal rights questions and struggles to reliable information. If you are struggling to cope with the shock of incest in your family, RAINN’s “How am I Supposed to React?” can provide some insight, and this can help you sort through the feelings. If you experienced sexual abuse as a child, you may face additional challenges. Here are some links you may want to explore.

For information on intervening in a suspected or known case of incest, visit our page on Intervention.



"One small difference between a broken bone and an incest survivor's broken heart is the bone will mend but the heart may not."

- Barbara Joy Hansen