When a perpetrator intentionally harms a minor physically, psychologically, sexually, or by acts of neglect, the crime is known as child abuse.
Child abuse isn’t just about black eyes. While physical abuse is shocking due to the marks it leaves, not all signs of child abuse are as obvious. Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, exposing them to sexual situations, or making them feel worthless or stupid are also forms of child abuse and neglect—and they can leave deep, lasting trauma on kids.
Abusive behavior comes in many forms, but the common denominator is the emotional effect on the child.
Contrary to some people’s beliefs, words can hurt and emotional abuse can severely damage a child’s mental health or social development. Examples of emotional abuse include:
Some warning signs of emotional abuse:
This is a pattern of failing to provide for a child’s basic needs, which include adequate food, clothing, hygiene, or supervision. Child neglect is not always easy to spot. Sometimes, a parent might become physically or mentally unable to care for a child, such as in cases of serious illness or injury, or untreated depression or anxiety. Other times, alcohol or drug abuse may seriously impair judgment and the ability to keep a child safe.
Some warning signs of neglect:
This is the result of a deliberate attempt to hurt the child or excessive physical punishment. Many physically abusive parents insist that their actions are simply forms of discipline—ways to make children learn to behave. There is a big difference between using physical punishment to discipline and physical abuse.
With physical abuse, the following elements maybe present:
Some warning signs of physical abuse:
Child sexual abuse is an especially complicated form of abuse because of its layers of secrecy and shame. It’s important to recognize that sexual abuse doesn’t always involve body contact. Exposing a child to sexual situations or material is sexually abusive, whether or not touching is involved.
The shame of sexual abuse makes it very difficult for children to come forward. They may worry that others won’t believe them, will be angry with them, or that it will split their family apart. Because of these difficulties, false accusations of sexual abuse are not common, so if a child confides in you, take them seriously.
Some warning signs of sexual abuse in children:
Regardless of the type of abuse, the result is serious emotional harm. But there is help available. If you suspect a child is suffering from abuse or neglect, it’s important to speak out. By catching the problem as early as possible, both the child and the abuser can get the help they need.
Learn more about how to report suspected child abuse here.
Learn more about how to react if a child discloses abuse to you here.