Non-socialised: Many young survivors do not know how to behave normally around other children. They may not know how to play or join in playground games. They may fear children’s group games such as hide and seek, pass the parcel, etc. These games are often turned around by abusers and used to hurt children. These children often do not actively or willingly join in such group games. They may appear fearful, uncertain and uncooperative.
Fear: Many things frighten children but with ritually abused children, there can often be a fear of things out of all proportion to ‘normal’ childhood fears. They may show fear of singing, circle time, paint, colours, making things, animals, stuffed toys, masks, religious items such as crosses or bibles, etc. Ritually abused children may show fear in a different way from other children. Rather than screaming, running away or crying, some children will freeze or even pass out with terror. They may hide in a corner or under a desk. Any unusual reaction to fear in a child should be noticed and gently explored further.
Running away: Most adult survivors report that as children they tried to run away on more than one occasion. Though severely punished for this, many kept on trying. Unfortunately, even on the occasions when police or social work become involved in a child running away from home, the real reasons for running away often remains hidden.
Adults need to recognise that children and young people only run away from home for a reason. The fact that police and social work continually return the children to the abusive home, in the eyes of the child, places them firmly on the side of the abusers. Understandably, these children will not readily turn to these agencies for help.
Touch: Ritually abused children often fear being touched. They are seldom used to okay hugs and the word hug may hold a different meaning for them. If touched they may freeze, flinch, try to get away or not respond in a ‘normal’ child-like manner. They may appear to be afraid of touch or of touching others. Even a simple thing like being told to hold another child’s hand may cause them difficulties.
Drawing: Ritually abused children often find drawing difficult. They may not be allowed to draw or only allowed to draw some things as dictated by abusers. They may be unable to use particular colours in drawings and will react strongly to suggestions of using a colour they are not allowed to or are afraid of. Textures of some drawing or painting materials may also cause problems. Drawings are often mis-interpreted by teachers or play leaders. Adults could learn a lot just by asking the child about their drawings and exploring the use or lack of use of some colours or materials.
Places: Children may show extreme fear of particular places e.g. churches, cinemas, libraries, and graveyards. They may be unable to enter these places without being sick, passing out or becoming very distressed.
Sexualised Behaviour: Some children react to their experiences by becoming sexualised. They may act provocatively, use sexually explicit language, insert objects into themselves, try to touch other people sexually, invite sexual contact with adults, offer sex for money or behave in a sexually abusive way to other children. It is never normal for any child to behave in a highly sexualised manner.