The Issue of Child Abuse

Every year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States. It’s a terrible epidemic that we at Childhelp are dedicated to put an end to. To do this, we need to first increase awareness of the issue itself.

What is child abuse?
Child abuse is when someone, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm, or risk of serious harm to a child.

Read through the sections below on the different types of child abuse and precursors to abuse, so you can learn the signs. If you see any of these things happening, signs of abuse in anyone you know, or are a victim of child abuse, get help right away. Our Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is a 24-hour hotline with resources to aid in every child abuse situation. All calls, texts, and chats are confidential. Call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) for help. Here are some additional resources:

Recognizing Signs of Child Abuse

Children should be safe, and adults are responsible to keep them safe – we must be able to recognize signs and risks of child abuse. This brief course reviews the signs of child abuse, risk and protective factors, tips for the virtual environment, and how to respond and report. Click below to start the course.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse of a child is when a parent or caregiver causes any non-accidental physical injury to a child. There are many signs of physical abuse. If you see any of the following signs, please get help right away.

 28.3% of adults report being physically abused as a child.

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Physical abuse includes striking, kicking, burning, biting, hair pulling, choking, throwing, shoving, whipping or any other action that injures a child. Even if the caregiver didn’t mean to cause injury, when the child is injured it is abuse. Physical discipline from a parent that does not injure or impair a child is not considered abuse; however non-violent alternatives are always available.

Physical abuse can result in:

  • Bruises, blisters, burns, cuts and scratches
  • Internal injuries, brain damage
  • Broken bones, sprains, dislocated joints
  • Emotional and psychological harm
  • Lifelong injury, death

Signs of physical abuse in parent or caregiver:

  • Can’t or won’t explain injury of child, or explains it in a way that doesn’t make sense
  • Displays aggression to child or is overly anxious about child’s behavior
  • Indicates child is not trustworthy, a liar, evil, a troublemaker
  • Delays or prevents medical care for child
  • Takes child to different doctors or hospitals
  • Keeps child from school, church, clubs
  • Has history of violence and/or abuse

Signs of physical abuse in a child:

Physical:

  • Any injury to a child who is not crawling yet
  • Visible and severe injuries
  • Injuries at different stages of healing
  • On different surfaces of the body
  • Unexplained or explained in a way that doesn’t make sense
  • Distinctive shape
  • Frequency, timing and history of injuries (frequent, after weekends, vacations, school absences)

Behavioral:

  • Aggression toward peers, pets, other animals
  • Seems afraid of parents or other adults
  • Fear, withdrawal, depression, anxiety
  • Wears long sleeves out of season
  • Violent themes in fantasy, art, etc.
  • Nightmares, insomnia
  • Reports injury, severe discipline
  • Immaturity, acting out, emotional and behavior extremes
  • Self-destructive behavior or attitudes
Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when an adult uses a child for sexual purposes or involves a child in sexual acts. It also includes when a child who is older or more powerful uses another child for sexual gratification or excitement.

20.7% of adults report being sexually abused as a child.

 

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Sexual abuse of children includes:

  • Non-contact abuse
  • Making a child view a sex act
  • Making a child view or show sex organs
  • Inappropriate sexual talk
  • Contact abuse
  • Fondling and oral sex
  • Penetration
  • Making children perform a sex act
  • Exploitation
  • Child prostitution and child pornography

Signs of sexual abuse in parent or caregiver:

  • Parent fails to supervise child
  • Unstable adult presence
  • Jealous/possessive parent
  • Sexual relationships troubled or dysfunctional
  • Parent relies on child for emotional support

Signs of sexual abuse in a child:

Physical:

  • Difficulty sitting, walking, bowel problems
  • Torn, stained, bloody undergarments
  • Bleeding, bruises, pain, swelling, itching of genital area
  • Frequent urinary tract infections or yeast infections
  • Any sexually transmitted disease or related symptoms

Behavioral:

  • Doesn’t want to change clothes (e.g., for P.E.)
  • Withdrawn, depressed, anxious
  • Eating disorders, preoccupation with body
  • Aggression, delinquency, poor peer relationships
  • Poor self-image, poor self-care, lack of confidence
  • Sudden absenteeism, decline in school performance
  • Substance abuse, running away, recklessness, suicide attempts
  • Sleep disturbance, fear of bedtime, nightmares, bed wetting (at advanced age)
  • Sexual acting out, excessive masturbation
  • Unusual or repetitive soothing behaviors (hand-washing, pacing, rocking, etc.)
  • Sexual behavior or knowledge that is advanced or unusual
  • Reports sexual abuse

Sexual abuse of children includes:

  • Non-contact abuse
  • Making a child view a sex act
  • Making a child view or show sex organs
  • Inappropriate sexual talk
  • Contact abuse
  • Fondling and oral sex
  • Penetration
  • Making children perform a sex act
  • Exploitation
  • Child prostitution and child pornography

Signs of sexual abuse in parent or caregiver:

  • Parent fails to supervise child
  • Unstable adult presence
  • Jealous/possessive parent
  • Sexual relationships troubled or dysfunctional
  • Parent relies on child for emotional support

Signs of sexual abuse in a child:

Physical:

  • Difficulty sitting, walking, bowel problems
  • Torn, stained, bloody undergarments
  • Bleeding, bruises, pain, swelling, itching of genital area
  • Frequent urinary tract infections or yeast infections
  • Any sexually transmitted disease or related symptoms

Behavioral:

  • Doesn’t want to change clothes (e.g., for P.E.)
  • Withdrawn, depressed, anxious
  • Eating disorders, preoccupation with body
  • Aggression, delinquency, poor peer relationships
  • Poor self-image, poor self-care, lack of confidence
  • Sudden absenteeism, decline in school performance
  • Substance abuse, running away, recklessness, suicide attempts
  • Sleep disturbance, fear of bedtime, nightmares, bed wetting (at advanced age)
  • Sexual acting out, excessive masturbation
  • Unusual or repetitive soothing behaviors (hand-washing, pacing, rocking, etc.)
  • Sexual behavior or knowledge that is advanced or unusual
  • Reports sexual abuse
Emotional Abuse

When a parent or caregiver harms a child’s mental and social development, or causes severe emotional harm, it is considered emotional abuse. While a single incident may be abuse, most often emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that causes damage over time.

10.6% of adults report being emotionally abused as a child.

 

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Emotional abuse can include:

  • Rejecting or ignoring: telling a child he or she is unwanted or unloved, showing little interest in child, not initiating or returning affection, not listening to the child, not validating the child’s feelings, breaking promises, cutting child off in conversation
  • Shaming or humiliating: calling a child names, criticizing, belittling, demeaning, berating, mocking, using language or taking action that takes aim at child’s feelings of self-worth
  • Terrorizing: accusing, blaming, insulting, punishing with or threatening abandonment, harm or death, setting a child up for failure, manipulating, taking advantage of a child’s weakness or reliance on adults, slandering, screaming, yelling
  • Isolating: keeping child from peers and positive activities, confining child to small area, forbidding play or other stimulating experiences
  • Corrupting: engaging child in criminal acts, telling lies to justify actions or ideas, encouraging misbehavior

Signs of emotional abuse in parent or caregiver:

  • Routinely ignores, criticizes, yells at or blames child
  • Plays favorites with one sibling over another
  • Poor anger management or emotional self-regulation
  • Stormy relationships with other adults, disrespect for authority
  • History of violence or abuse
  • Untreated mental illness, alcoholism or substance abuse

Signs of emotional abuse in a child:

Physical:

  • Delays in development
  • Wetting bed, pants
  • Speech disorders
  • Health problems like ulcers, skin disorders
  • Obesity and weight fluctuation

Behavioral:

  • Habits like sucking, biting, rocking
  • Learning disabilities and developmental delays
  • Overly compliant or defensive
  • Extreme emotions, aggression, withdrawal
  • Anxieties, phobias, sleep disorders
  • Destructive or anti-social behaviors (violence, cruelty, vandalism, stealing, cheating, lying)
  • Behavior that is inappropriate for age (too adult, too infantile)
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Bullying & Cyberbullying

Bullying is the repeated, targeted, aggressive behavior, that uses force, threats, teasing, and/or embarrassment to hurt children who are younger or smaller, or over whom they have power. Cyberbullying is the repeated, targeted, aggressive behavior that takes place online, or on digital devices through email, chat, text, and includes sending, posting, or sharing hurtful or embarrassing information or images to exclude and shame the targeted person.

One out of every five (20.2%) students reports being bullied.

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Bullying

Bullying is repeated, targeted, aggressive behavior, usually among children, though an adult can be a bully as well. Bullies use force, threats, teasing, and/or embarrassment to hurt children who are younger or smaller, or over whom they have power. Bullying can hurt a person physically, emotionally, or both.

One out of every five (20.2%) students reports being bullied. (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2019).

Bullying can include:

  • Verbal bullying, like teasing and name-calling
  • Social bullying, involving shutting a child out of a group, spreading rumors, and embarrassing them in public
  • Physical bullying, like kicking, hitting, tripping, and pushing

Signs that someone is a bully:

  • Often fights, physically or verbally
  • Blames others for their problems
  • Can be aggressive, gets into trouble at school
  • Part of a clique that looks down on others
  • Concerned about status and reputation
  • Has unexplained new possessions or extra money

Signs that a child is being bullied:

Physical:

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Lost or damaged clothing and possessions
  • Coming home hungry because they did not eat lunch

Behavioral:

  • Complaining often of illness and wanting to stay home from school
  • Having trouble sleeping or frequent nightmares
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is repeated, targeted, aggressive behavior that takes place online on social media or in gaming forums, or on digital devices through email, chat, text, and so on. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing hurtful or embarrassing information or images to exclude and shame the targeted person.

Cyberbullying can include:

  • Posting comments or rumors online about a person that are mean or hurtful
  • Sharing or posting embarrassing or upsetting pictures or videos
  • Telling a person to commit suicide
  • Threatening someone over text or online
  • Sharing someone’s private information, typically as revenge for a perceived wrong
  • Ruining a person’s reputation by adopting their identity and posting negative content as them
  • Deliberately and publicly excluding a person

Signs that someone is a cyberbully:

  • Many signs of being a bully apply, in addition to points below
  • Avoids talking about online and digital activities, or boasts about online presence
  • Has multiple online accounts and is evasive about them
  • Shuts down programs or turns off screen when someone approaches
  • Is online or uses digital devices excessively, and becomes upset when denied access

Signs that a child is being cyberbullied:

  • Nervous, upset, or frustrated when texting or going online
  • Reluctant to talk about online activity or accounts
  • Hesitant to use computers, tablets, or smartphones
  • Signs of depression and low self-worth
  • Many of the same signs as bullying in the physical world, such as loss of friends, frequent illness, trouble sleeping, and so on
Child Neglect

Child neglect is when a parent or caregiver does not give the care, supervision, affection and support needed for a child’s health, safety and well-being. Child neglect includes:

  • Physical neglect and inadequate supervision
  • Emotional neglect
  • Medical neglect
  • Educational neglect
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Physical Neglect

Children need enough care to be healthy and enough supervision to be safe. Adults that care for children must provide clothing, food and drink. A child also needs safe, healthy shelter, and adequate supervision.

Examples of physical neglect:

  • Deserting a child or refusing to take custody of a child who is under your care
  • Repeatedly leaving a child in another’s custody for days or weeks at a time
  • Failing to provide enough healthy food and drink
  • Failing to provide clothes that are appropriate to the weather
  • Failing to ensure adequate personal hygiene
  • Not supervising a child appropriately
  • Leaving the child with an inappropriate caregiver
  • Exposing a child to unsafe/unsanitary environments or situations

Emotional Neglect

Children require enough affection and attention to feel loved and supported. If a child shows signs of psychological illness, it must be treated.

Examples of emotional neglect:

  • Ignoring a child’s need for attention, affection and emotional support
  • Exposing a child to extreme or frequent violence, especially domestic violence
  • Permitting a child to use drugs, use alcohol, or engage in crime
  • Keeping a child isolated from friends and loved ones

Medical Neglect

Some states do not prosecute parents who withhold certain types of medical care for religious reasons, but they may get a court order to protect the child’s life.

Parents and caregivers must provide children with appropriate treatment for injuries and illness. They must also provide basic preventive care to make sure their child stays safe and healthy.

Examples of medical neglect:

  • Not taking child to hospital or appropriate medical professional for serious illness or injury
  • Keeping a child from getting needed treatment
  • Not providing preventative medical and dental care
  • Failing to follow medical recommendations for a child

Educational Neglect

Parents and schools share responsibility for making sure children have access to opportunities for academic success.

Examples of educational neglect:

  • Allowing a child to miss too much school
  • Not enrolling a child in school (or not providing comparable home-based education)
  • Keeping a child from needed special education services

Signs of Child Neglect

There is no “smoking gun” for most child neglect. While even one instance of neglect can cause lifelong harm to a child, neglect often requires a pattern of behavior over a period of time.

Signs in Caregiver

There is no “typical neglectful parent.” Nevertheless, certain indicators may suggest a parent or caregiver needs help to nurture and protect the child or children in their care:

  • Displays indifference or lack of care toward the child
  • Depression, apathy, drug/alcohol abuse and other mental health issues
  • Denies problems with child or blames the child for problems
  • Views child negatively
  • Relies on child for own care and well-being

Signs in Child

While a single indicator may not be cause for alarm, children who are neglected often show that they need help:

  • Clothing that is the wrong size, in disrepair, dirty, or not right for the weather
  • Often hungry, stockpiles food, seeks food, may even show signs of malnutrition (like distended belly, protruding bones)
  • Very low body weight, height for age
  • Often tired, sleepy, listless
  • Hygiene problems, body odor
  • Talks about caring for younger siblings, not having a caregiver at home
  • Untreated medical and dental problems, incomplete immunizations
  • Truancy, frequently incomplete homework, frequent changes of school
Grooming

Grooming is the act of deliberately establishing an emotional connection with a child to prepare the child for sexual abuse. Grooming can happen in the physical world as well as on the Internet, where law enforcement estimates there are 50,000 predators online at any given time. Most at risk for grooming are youth who are isolated, have low self-esteem, or somehow need attention.

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Grooming

Grooming includes:

  • Identifying and targeting the victim
  • Gaining trust and access (online, this can include adopting a false identity)
  • Playing a role in the child’s life
  • Isolating the child
  • Creating secrecy around the relationship
  • Initiating sexual contact to “test the waters”
  • Controlling the relationship through fear and guilt

Signs of a sexual predator grooming a child:

  • Taking an undue interest in a child and being a “special friend”
  • Giving gifts and money to a child for no apparent reason
  • Showing pornography to a child
  • Talking about sexual topics that are not age appropriate
  • Invading the child’s privacy or personal space

Signs in a child that grooming is taking place in the physical world:

  • Avoiding a specific person without an obvious reason
  • Avoiding certain places where the predator may have access to the child
  • Going through sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • Self-harming or attempting suicide
  • Developing an eating disorder
  • Complaining frequently of illness, like stomach ache, headache, sore throat
  • Withdrawing from physical contact or closeness
  • Being constantly watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen

Signs in a child that grooming is taking place online:

  • Spending an unusual high amount of time online, and withdrawing from other activities
  • Switching off or hiding their screen when someone approaches
  • Having secret or hidden accounts or e-mail addresses
  • Having sexually explicit content on their device
  • Receiving calls, mail, and gifts from people their parent or caregiver does not know