Recognizing the Signs of Child Abuse


April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the Y is making sure everyone in the community has the tools they need to recognize the types of child abuse and watch for warning signs. Most abuse happens by people youth know and trust. Abusers can be caretakers, friends, neighbors, activity leaders, parents, relatives and even other youth.

Child abuse can take many different forms:

  • Emotional abuse is the use of threats or words that can harm a child’s feelings and self-esteem and the withholding of love and support. Examples include ridicule, rejecting, blaming, or communicating unrealistic expectations.

  • Physical abuse is the deliberate injury of a child by any person, including by another child.

  • Sexual abuse is any sexual activity between an adult and a minor, and between two minors when one exerts power over the other. It includes genital touching, inappropriate hugging or kissing, playing sexually oriented games, and sexual intercourse. It also includes non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyeurism, taking nude photos, and communicating in a sexual manner by phone or Internet.

  • 30% of children who are sexually abused are abused by family members.

  • 60% of children who are sexually abused are abused by a person the family trusts.

  • 40% of children who are sexually abused by older, or more powerful children

  • Child neglect is a form of abuse that occurs when a person responsible for the care of a child fails to provide necessary food, clothing, medical care, education, affection, shelter or supervision.

Watch for warning signs of child abuse:

  • Abrupt changes in behavior, anxiety, clinging, aggressiveness or withdrawal.

  • Discomfort with physical contact.

  • Fearfulness or depression.

  • Abuse or bullying of other children.

  • Avoidance of a particular person or place, or refusing to go to a friend’s or relative’s home for no apparent reason.

  • Sexual language or behavior that is not age-appropriate.

  • Unexplained bruises, welts, burns.

  • Unkempt or malnourished appearance.

  • Disturbed sleeping or eating patterns.

  • Sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

Listen and watch for signs that your child is receiving special attention that other children or youth are not receiving. This type of behavior is called "grooming":

  • Spends time building a friendship with the child and slowly gains the trust of the family.

  • Gives gifts or treats to the child and/or gives the child special favors.

  • Does things for the child that the parents may not be able to do.

  • Lays the foundation for future sexual secrets by encouraging harmless secrets.

  • Breaks down physical boundaries over time by playing physical contact games, giving backrubs, tickling, or wrestling.

  • Gives youth opportunities to break rules such as using alcohol or drugs or viewing pornography. This discourages the child from telling parents when abuse occurs, and pornography initiates sexual interest.

  • Takes pictures and videos of the child.

  • Increases affection or time alone, particularly outside the activities of school, sports, child care, and other activities.

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