What is child abuse

Every year, more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States. It is a terrible epidemic that we at Child are trying to put an end to. To do this, we need, to first raise awareness of the problem itself.

What is child abuse? Child abuse is when a parent or caregiver, whether by acting or doing nothing, causes harm, death, emotional harm, or risk of serious harm to a child. There are many forms of child abuse, including neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, and emotional abuse.

Read the following sections to learn about the different types of child abuse signs. If you see these signs in everyone you see, or a victim of child abuse, get help immediately.

Physical abuse

A child’s physical abuse is when a parent or caregiver performs any non-accidental physical injury to a child. There are many signs of physical abuse. If you see any of the following signs, you will get help immediately.

28.3% of adults are physically abused as children.

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Physical abuse includes striking, kicking, burning, biting, pulling hair, throttling, throwing, jostling, flogging or other measures that injure a child. Even if the caregiver was not my intention to cause injury if the child is injured abuse. Physical discipline from a parent who has not injured or impaired a child is not considered abuse; but violent alternatives are always available.

Physical abuse can lead to:

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

Signs of physical abuse in parent or:

  • Can’t or won’t explain the child’s injury, or explain it in a way that makes no sense
  • Shows aggression child or is overly concerned about child behavior
  • Shows child is not trustworthy, a wild, evil, a troublemaker
  • Delays or prevents medical care for children
  • Child takes various doctors or hospitals
  • Keeps child from school, church, clubs
  • Has a history of violence and / or abuse

Signs of physical abuse in a child:


  • Any injury to a child that won’t crawl yet
  • Visible and serious injuries
  • Injuries at various stages of healing
  • On different surfaces of the body
  • Unexplained or explained in a way that makes no sense
  • Striking shape
  • Frequency, timing and history of Injuries (common, after weekends, vacation, school absenteeism)


  • Aggression towards peers, pets, other animals
  • Seems afraid of parents or other adults
  • Fear, withdrawal, depression, fear
  • Wears long sleeves out of season
  • Violent subjects in imagination, art, etc.
  • Nightmares, insomnia
  • Reports injuries, severe discipline
  • Immaturity, acting out, emotional and behavioral extremes
  • Self-destructive behavior or attitudes
Sexual abuse

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

20.7% of adults who are sexually abused as children.

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Child sexual abuse includes:

  • Non-contact abuse
  • A sexual act for a child
  • A subordinate view or show genital organs
  • Inappropriate sexual talk
  • Contact abuse
  • Fondling and oral sex
  • penetration
  • Make children perform a sexual act
  • business
  • Child prostitution and child pornography

Signs of sexual abuse in parents or caregivers:

  • Parent not supervise child
  • Unstable adult presence
  • Jealous / owner mother
  • Sexual relationships troubled or dysfunctional
  • Parent puts emotional support on child

Signs of sexual abuse in a child:


  • Difficulty sitting, hiking, bowel problems
  • Torn, stained, bloody underwear
  • Bleeding, bruises, pain, swelling, genital itching
  • Common urinary tract infections or fungal infections
  • Any sexually transmitted disease or related symptoms


  • Doesn’t want to move (e.g., for P.E.)
  • Withdrawn, depressed, fearful
  • Eating disorders, preoccupation with the body
  • Aggression, crime, poor peer relationships
  • Bad self-image, poor self-sufficiency, lack of trust
  • Sudden absences, drop in school performance
  • Substance abuse, running away, recklessness, attempted suicide
  • Sleep disorders, fear of bedtime, nightmares, bedwetting (in advanced age)
  • Sexual acting out, excessive masturbation
  • Unusual or repeated soothing behaviors (hand washing, pacing, rocking, etc.)
  • Sexual behavior or knowledge that is advanced or unusual
  • Reports of sexual abuse
Emotional abuse

If a parent or child harms mental and social development, or causes serious emotional damage, it is believed to be emotional abuse. While a single incident can be abuse, most often emotional abuse is a behavior pattern that causes damage over time.

10.6% of adults are emotionally abused as children.

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Emotional abuse can count:

  • Reject or ignore: tells a child that he or she is undesirable or unloved, shows little interest in the child, not affection at the beginning or on return, does not listen to the child, does not validate the child’s feelings, break promises, cutting child off talking
  • Ashamed or humble: calling a child’s name, criticism, belittling, demeaning, insulting, mocking, using language or actions that aim at taking feelings of self-worth the child
  • Terrorization: accusatory, guilty, offensive, punished with or threatening to leave, injury or death, putting a child to failure, manipulating, taking advantage of a child’s weakness or trust in adults, defamation, screaming, shouting
  • Isolate: Keep child of peers and positive activities, limit child’s small area, prohibit play or other stimulating experiences
  • Pernicious: child engaging in criminal acts, lies to justify actions or ideas, encouraging misconduct

Signs of emotional abuse in parent or:

  • Child routinely ignores, criticizes, screams or criticizes
  • Play favorites with one sibling over another
  • Bad anger management or 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:


  • Development delays
  • As a net bed, pants
  • speech disorders
  • Health problems such as ulcers, skin diseases
  • Obesity and weight fluctuations


  • Habits like sucking, biting, rocking
  • Learning difficulties and developmental delays
  • Openly docile or defensive
  • Extreme emotions, aggression, withdrawal
  • Fears, phobias, sleep disorders
  • Destructive or anti-social behavior (violence, cruelty, vandalism, stealing, fraud, lying down)
  • A behavior that is unsuitable for old age (also for adults, also infantile)
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
child neglect

Child neglect, when a parent or not give care, requires supervision, affection and support for the child’s health, safety and well-being. Child disregard 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 safe enough to be supervised. Adults who wear clothing for children must provide care, food and drink. A child also needs safe, healthy animal shelter, and adequate supervision.

Examples of physical neglect:

  • Deses a child or refuses to take custody of a child who is under your care
  • Repeatedly leaving one child in another care for days or weeks at a time
  • Otherwise, provide enough healthy food and drinks
  • Otherwise, clothing that must be provided according to the weather
  • Otherwise, adequate personal hygiene is guaranteed
  • Not adequate supervision of a child
  • Leaving the child with an unsuitable caregiver
  • Exposing a child to unsafe / unsanitary environments or situations

Emotional neglect

Children need enough affection and attention to feel loved and supported. If a child shows signs of mental illness, it needs to 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
  • Allow a child to take drugs, use alcohol, or engage in crime
  • Keeping a child isolated from friends and loved ones

Medical neglect

Some states persecute parents who withhold certain types of medical care for religious reasons, but they can get a court to protect the child’s life.

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

Examples of medical neglect:

  • Do not go to hospital instead of child or appropriate doctor for serious illness or injury
  • Keeping a child from prior treatment required
  • Not providing preventive medical and dental care
  • Otherwise, follow medical recommendations for a child

Educational Neglect

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

Examples of educational neglect:

  • Allow a child to miss too much school
  • Not enrolling a child in school (or comparable home-based education)
  • Keeping a child from required special education

Signs of child neglect

There is none "smoking gun" for most child neglect. While even an instance of neglect can cause lifelong harm to a child, neglecting a behavior pattern over a period of time often requires it.

Signs in Caregiver

There is no "typical careless parents." Nevertheless, certain indicators a parent or caregiver may need need help to care for and protect the child or children:

  • Shows indifference or lack of care towards the child
  • Depression, apathy, drug / alcohol abuse and other mental health problems
  • Denies problems with child or blames the child for problems
  • Child’s views negative
  • Relies on child for their own care and well-being

Signs in children

While a single indicator cannot be cause for concern, children who are often neglected show that they need help:

  • Clothes that are the wrong size, in poor condition, dirty, or not right for the weather
  • Often hungry, eating food, looking for food, may even show signs of malnutrition (such as distended belly, protruding bones)
  • Very low body weight, height for ages
  • Often tired, sleepy, listless
  • Hygiene problems, body odor
  • Discussions about looking after younger siblings, not with a caregiver at home
  • Untreated medical and dental problems, incomplete vaccinations
  • Tails, often incomplete homework, frequent changes of school

Get help

If you see any signs of abuse in someone, or if you are involved in a violent relationship, get help immediately. Our Child National Child Abuse Hotline A 24 hour hotline with resources to help child abuse in every situation. All conversations are confidential. Call 1-800-4-A-KIND (1-800-422-4453) for help. For additional resources such as risk factors and protection factors or handling child abuse disclosures, visit our history & Resource Center.


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Christina Cherry
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