Published: Dec 10, 2011 3:16 AM EST
Updated: Dec 10, 2011 5:50 AM EST

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Investigators say the alleged abuse between a 37 year-old Lehigh Acres father and his young daughter spanned several years of this her life.

Sadly, it happens a lot more than any of us are aware. But if you know the telltale signs of sexual abuse, you may be able to save a child's life.

"Children, for many years, act and look like nothing is wrong, when in fact, they have burying a very deep dark secret," Child Psychiatrist Dr. Omar Rieche.

It's a secret that can destroy childrens' self-esteem, and wreak havoc on their emotions.

"Children in particular start to internalize, and in their egocentric thinking, start to think they've been doing something wrong," Rieche said. "It's just tragic."

Rieche says children may become fidgety and have more nervous habits like biting their nails, or scratching their hair. They may have difficulty expressing a full range of emotions. If these red flags go unnoticed, they could develop into more serious behaviors.

"The other signs may be that they have self-injuries, behaviors, they may cut themselves, burn themselves," Rieche said.

"It is so okay to ask for help," Colleen Henderson of Abuse Counseling and Treatment said.

Counselors say many times, issues stem from parents seeking power.

"95% of the girls and 80% of the boys are molested by men, and 44% of the time its a family member," Henderson said.
But all too often, it's a crime goes unreported.      

"Familes that are more isolated, not involved in any after school activities, if there is a lot of control within the family, and those children are more isolated, you start to become suspicious," Rieche said.

Teachers within Lee County Schools are trained to look for these indications of abuse, and are required by a Florida statute to report any knowledge or suspicion of abuse.