What Are the Signs of Child Abuse?

When you think of child abuse, your first thought may be of a child with bruises or other marks that raise red flags. But the signs aren’t always so clear. Abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional. Or a child may be neglected, meaning their caregivers don’t provide for basic needs, like food or safety.

What makes abuse even harder to stop is that most of the time, the abuser is someone the child knows. They may be reluctant to say something because they may want to protect that person or is afraid of what the abuser will do if they speak up.

It’s important to know how to recognize different types of abuse, and what you can do if you suspect it.

Types of Child Abuse

Child abuse happens when someone harms a child’s body or emotional health, development, and well-being. There are 4 main types.

Physical abuse means that someone hurts a child’s body or puts them in physical danger. It doesn’t matter if the child gets seriously hurt or if it leaves a mark. Any harm is abuse. It includes when someone:

  • Burns a child
  • Hits, kicks, or bites
  • Holds the child under water
  • Shakes or throws the child
  • Throws objects at the child
  • Ties up the child

Sexual abuse is any kind of sexual activity with a child, not just physical contact. It includes when someone:ADVERTISEMENT

  • Forces a child to take part in pornographic pictures or videos
  • Has any sexual contact with the child, from kissing in a sexual way to having sex
  • Makes phone calls or sends emails, texts, or other messages that are sexual in any way
  • Shows the child someone else’s genitals, as with “flashing”
  • Shows pornography
  • Tells “dirty” jokes or stories

Emotional abuse is a pattern of behaviors that harm a child’s emotional well-being and development. This can mean when someone:

  • Abuses others when the child is around, such as a parent, brother, sister, or pet
  • Fails to show love and affection
  • Ignores the child and doesn’t give emotional support and guidance
  • Shames, belittles, criticizes, or embarrasses
  • Teases, threatens, bullies, or yells