What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is the physical, sexual, or psychological mistreatment of a child by a parent or other caregiver.

 

There are four common types of abuse:

 

Physical Abuse

​The non-accidental physical injury of a child. The inadvertent result of physical punishment or physically aggressive treatment of a child. 

Sexual Abuse

Any act of a sexual nature upon or with a child for the sexual gratification of the perpetrator or a third party, including anyone who allowed or encouraged it. 

Emotional Abuse

Chronic attitudes or acts which interfere with the psychological and social development of a child.  When a parent or caregiver harms a child’s mental and social development or causes severe emotional harm. 

Neglect 

Child-rearing practices which are essentially inadequate or dangerous. The failure to act on behalf of the child; not providing the care, supervision, affection, and support needed for a child’s health, safety, and well-being. 

Warning Signs of Child Abuse 

It is important to be aware of the signs you may see in a child who is experiencing abuse. How would you know if a child you care about is experiencing abuse?

Signs of Physical Abuse 

  • Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts

  • Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen

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

  • Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home

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

Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Trouble walking or sitting

  • Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior

  • Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason

  • Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities

  • An STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14

  • Child runs away from home

Signs of Emotional Abuse

  • Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong

  • Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive, or extremely aggressive)

  • Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver

  • Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, tantruming) 

Signs of Neglect 

  • Clothes do not fit properly, not laundered, or inappropriate for the weather

  • Hygiene is consistently bad (unbathed, matted, and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor)

  • Untreated illnesses and physical injuries

  • Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments

  • Is frequently late or missing from school or activities 

 

The Long Term Impact of Child Abuse 

Child abuse and neglect can have a tremendous impact on broader lifelong health and wellbeing outcomes if left untreated. 

Exposure to violence in childhood increases the risks of injury, future victimization, perpetration, substance abuse, sexually transmitted infections, delayed brain development, reproductive health problems, involvement in sex trafficking, lower educational attainment, and limited employment opportunities. 

Chronic abuse may result in toxic stress and make victims more vulnerable to PTSD, conduct disorder, and learning, attention, and memory difficulties. 

If you have a history of child abuse or other childhood trauma, memories, and feelings related to those experiences may be carried through to adulthood. This may happen when you have your own children, are forming relationships, or find yourself in seemingly unrelated situations.  This can make it difficult to function in a healthy and productive manner.

 

Tips for Parents and Caregivers 

What should you do if a child discloses abuse?

Remain calm. Avoid making facial expressions when the child is speaking and emphasize your acceptance. 

Help make the child feel comfortable. Telling someone about abuse is difficult and uncomfortable.

Listen closely to what the child has to say. Limit questions or interruptions when possible. Be patient.

Don’t interrogate. Let the child explain to you in their own words what happened. Ask open ended questions and only what is necessary for you to be able to reach out to a professional.

Emphasize safety. Reassure the child that what happened is not their fault and that they are doing the right thing by saying something

 

Making a Report 

A report of abuse can be made if you have a “reasonable suspicion” that abuse is taking place. Report all the facts about the situation that you know. You do not have to investigate or confirm any information. To report child abuse in Cuyahoga County, OH, call 216.696.5437 (KIDS)