What is Child Abuse?

Child Abuse can be defined as a "non-accidental" injury or pattern of injuries to a child. Child abuse is damage to a child for which there is no "reasonable" explanation. Child abuse includes non-accidental physical injury, neglect, sexual abuse/molestation, and emotional abuse. Child abuse can encompass a spectrum of abusive actions, from acts of commission, to lack of action or omission. Child abuse can start before the birth of the child and can have adverse effects on the child, such as failure to seek appropriate prenatal health care during pregnancy or maternal drug/alcohol abuse.

Key Facts on Child Abuse and Neglect

  • Approximately 3 million child abuse reports are made each year.
  • Child abuse is reported - on average - every 10 seconds.
  • Nearly one-half of substantiated cases of child neglect and abuse are associated with parental alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Each day in the United States, more than 3 children die as a result of child abuse in the home.
  • Most of the children who die are younger than 5 years of age.

Types of Child Abuse

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse includes anything a parent/caregiver does that results in physical harm to a child. Physical abuse may happen if a child is punished harshly, even though the parent/caregiver may not have meant to hurt the child. Physical abuse may result in a minor injury (such as a bruise) to a more serious injury, which could cause lasting damage or death (for example from shaking a child).

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when a person uses power over a child, and involves the child in any sexual act. This abuser is more powerful because of age, intelligence, physical strength, control over the child, and the child’s need to be taken care of by others. The offender gets the child to participate by using threats, bribes, lying and taking advantage of the child’s trust. Most sexual offenders are people the children know.


Neglect is when a parent/caregiver does not provide for the basic emotional and physical needs of the child on an ongoing basis. Examples of neglect include not providing the proper: Food, clothing, housing, supervision, safe surroundings, personal health, medical and emotional care, and education. Children who are neglected physically and emotionally may not develop normally. Some children may suffer permanent damage.

Emotional Abuse

A parent/caregiver who continually uses any of the following when interacting or disciplining a child is emotionally abusing the child: Rejecting, criticizing, insulting, humiliating, isolating, terrorizing, or corrupting. Children who witness violence in their home may suffer emotional damage watching a loved one being physically or verbally attacked.

Signs and Indications of Child Sexual Exploitation

  • Changes in behavior, fearfulness, withdrawal, extreme mood swings, excessive crying.
  • A fear of certain people, places, or activities; an extreme fear of going to a certain place.
  • Showing an unusual interest in sexual matters. Acting out inappropriate sexual activity.
  • A sudden acting out of feelings or aggressive or rebellious behavior.
  • Behavior problems at school and/or home.
  • Regression to infantile behavior; clinging.
  • Pain, bleeding, rawness, itching, or fluid, in the private areas.
  • Nightmares, fear of going to bed, other sleep disturbances, or bed-wetting.
  • Poorly explained injuries, multiple bruises, rashes, cuts, limping.

Many times, some of these behaviors may have other explanations. It is important for you to be aware of these signs and indicators and be prepared to assist and support your child no matter what the cause of these symptoms or behaviors.

What To Do If A Child Discloses Sexual Exploitation

Children seldom lie about acts of sexual exploitation. It is important that a child feels that you BELIEVE what he or she has told you.

Support the child and notify the authorities. Children fear telling others -- especially parents and those in authority positions, this is normal.

Make sure that the child knows that telling what has happened to them is the RIGHT THING TO DO and that you will PROTECT him or her from FUTURE HARM.

Respect the child's privacy. Accompany the child to a private place where he or she can tell what has happened to them. DO NOT discuss the incident in front of people who do not need to know what happened.

Express your LOVE and CONFIDENCE with words and gestures. Show physical affection.

Keep the lines of communication open with the child. It is vitally important that the child believe that you are sympathetic, understanding, supportive, and optimistic so that he or she will feel comfortable in making additional disclosures and in discussing feelings.

You must notify the child protection, youth services, child abuse, or other appropriate social services organizations. The police, sheriff's office, or other law enforcement agency MUST ALSO BE NOTIFIED.

Seek out appropriate medical attention if you think the child has been physically injured. Often a child who has been sexually exploited is also physically injured.

Ignoring the incident, minimizing the incident, or acting as if it did not happen is not going to help the child deal with the exploitation. Consider the need for COUNSELING for the child. In deciding what counselors to use, be extremely cautious, look for someone who is qualified, ethical, and experienced in cases of sexual victimization.

How to Prevent Child Sexual Exploitation

What You Can Do:
  1. Talk with your child about sexual abuse.
  2. Teach your child which body parts are private.
  3. Listen when your child tries to tell you something. Pay careful attention to your child's fears; be supportive of everything they confide in you.
  4. Know where to find your children at all times. Be familiar with their daily activities and friends.
  5. Pay attention to changes in your children's behavior.
  6. Teach your children that they have the right to say NO to what they sense is wrong and to trust their own feelings.
  7. Give your child your time and attention.
  8. Teach your children that no one should touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or approach them. If someone does, they should tell their parents, teacher, or someone in authority immediately.
  9. Be cautious about babysitters and/or other individuals who have custody of your children.
  10. Be watchful of an adult or teenager who is paying an unusual amount of attention to your children or giving them expensive or inappropriate gifts.
Share the Following Safety Rules with Your Children:
  1. If you get separated from your parents when you are out in public, don't wander around looking for them. Quickly go to a checkout counter, the security office, or the lost and found and tell the person in charge that you are lost and need help in finding your mom and dad.
  2. Do not get into a car or go anywhere with any person unless your parents have told you that it is okay.
  3. Stay away from anyone who follows you on foot or in a car; don't go near a car to talk to the people inside.
  4. Grownups should not ask children for help; they should be asking older people.
  5. No one should tell you that your mother or father is in trouble and that he will take you to them, ask you for directions or to help them look for a "lost puppy."
  6. If someone tries to take you somewhere, quickly get away from them, yell or scream, and run to some place that you know is safe.
  7. You should never go places alone; use the "buddy system."
  8. Never leave the yard or play area or to go into someone's home without asking your parents for permission first.
  9. Never try to get a ride home with anyone or hitchhike unless your parents have told you it is okay to ride with him or her.
  10. You should never keep a "special secret" if someone asks you to. If he or she does, tell your parents or teacher.
  11. Do not let someone you don't know take your picture, tell him or her NO and tell your parents or teacher.
  12. 12. No one should touch you in your private areas. You should not touch anyone else in those areas if they ask you to. Your body is special and private.
Link to ChildHelp website
1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)