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Recognizing Signs of Child Abuse

Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. While physical abuse might be the most visible, other types of abuse such as sexual abuse or emotional abuse and neglect, also leave deep long lasting scars. Ignoring children's needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations or making a child feel worthless and stupid, are also forms of child abuse.

By taking the time to learn the types of abuse and how to recognize the common signs, you can make a huge difference in a child's life. The earlier children get help, the greater the chance they have to heal from their abuse and not perpetuate the cycle.

Types of Abuse

Listed below are some signs associated with particular types of child abuse and neglect. The presence of a single sign does not prove abuse is occurring, but a closer look t the situation may be warranted when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination.

Physical Abuse

Physical Abuse is the non-accidental physical injury of a child which includes: beatings, bites, strangulation, shaking and other actions that result in bruises, welts broken bones, scars or other serious internal injuries.

  • Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, bites, welts, cuts or burns

  • Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt

  • Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries such as long sleeved shirts on hot days

  • Has fading bruises or marks regularly appearing after an absence from school or activities

  • Exhibits behavioral extremes: overly aggressive, passive, compliant, withdrawn

  • Comes to school or activities early, stays late and doesn't want to go home

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is the exploitation of a child for the sexual gratification of an adult or significantly older child. It can include both physical and non-physical contact. Sexual abuse includes fondling or other touching of a child's genitals, forcing the child to touch the abuser, incest, rape (including statutory rape) sodomy, exhibitionism, or the exploitation of a child through prostitution or pornography. Sexual abuse may be the most underreported form of abuse because adults often lure the children into secrecy, shame or silence.

Signs May Include:

  • Unusual interest or knowledge of sexual things - for example, a child who uses in-depth sexual play with pers. (beyond playing doctor)

  • Inappropriate displays of affection

  • Pain during urination

  • Difficulty sitting or walking

  • Genital or anal itching, rashes, bleeding or pain

Physical Neglect

Physical neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic needs, such as food, shelter, clothing and hygiene.

Signs May Include:

  • Consistent hunger, hoarding, begging for or stealing food

  • Clothing that is dirty, torn, poorly fitting or inappropriate for the weather

  • Constant fatigue or listlessness

  • Poor hygiene

  • Untreated medical or dental problems

  • Inappropriate responsibility for younger siblings – for example, a child who frequently has to babysit siblings

  • Abandonment– No caregiver at home