There are several forms of child abuse – such as emotional, neglect, physical, or sexual. As a parent, you must be aware of these signs to ensure that your child is not a victim (from other family members or adult friends) and to protect other children that you love and are in your life.
When you have concerns for a child’s well-being, the indicators listed below may help you process the situation. However, please remember that many of these “symptoms” or “signs” could be caused by things other than abuse or neglect.
Some Signs of Child Abuse
- The child seems apathetic (just doesn’t care)
- Won’t take part in play or school activities.
- Aggressive behavior
- Loss of appetite
- Compulsive overeating
- The child is hungry much of the time
- A child wandering outdoors unsupervised
- Being unsuitably dressed for the weather
- Dirty clothing or wearing the same soiled clothes
- Showing up early or staying late at school
- Look for bruises or welts shaped like an object (belt buckle or electric cord)
- Bruises in unusual places (back, eyes, mouth, buttocks, genital areas, thighs, calves)
- Layers of different colored bruises in the same general area
- Small round burns from cigarettes.
- Burns in the shape of an object (iron, fireplace tool, or heater).
- Rope burns on ankles, wrists, or torso.
- Adult-sized bite marks.
- Withdrawal or anti-social attitude
- Refusal to undress for physical education or sports.
- Exaggerated interest in sex or “acting out” sex with other children
- Unusually seductive behavior
- Fear of intimate contact (hugging or sports)
- Torn, stained, or bloodied clothing
Quick Facts about Child Abuse:
- More than 80 percent of abusers are a parent or someone close to a child. Child abuse is far more likely to occur in the child’s home than in a day care center.
- Large families- four or more children-have higher rates of abuse and neglect, especially if their living conditions are crowded or they live in isolated areas.
- One in three girls and one in five boys are sexually abused by an adult at some time during childhood. (Most sexual abusers is someone the child knows- a family member or friend- not a stranger!
- One in thirteen kids with a parent on drugs is physically abused regularly. (Drug and alcohol abuse in the family makes child abuse about twice as likely.)
Abuse doesn’t just mean physical abuse. Neglect and emotional abuse can be just as damaging, and since they are more subtle, others are less likely to intervene.
Abuse doesn’t just happen in “bad families”. Not all abusers are intentionally harming their children. Many have been victims of abuse themselves, and don’t know any other way to parent. Others may be struggling with mental health issues or a substance abuse problem. You also don’t have to be in a bad neighborhood to see abuse. It crosses all racial, economic, and cultural boundaries. Just because things seem good on the outside doesn’t mean there isn’t a different story behind closed doors.
Recognizing abusive behavior in yourself
Do you see yourself in some of these descriptions, painful as it may be? Do you feel angry and frustrated and don’t know where to turn? Call 456-SAFE to find support and resources in your community that can help you break the cycle of abuse.
Recognizing that you have a problem is the biggest step to getting help. If you yourself were raised in an abusive situation, your idea of “normal” can be distorted. It may have been normal in your family to be slapped or pushed for little to no reason, or for your parents to call you stupid, clumsy, or worthless. Or it may have been normal to watch your mother get beaten up by your father. None of these scenarios are normal or healthy for any family. Don’t repeat the cycle.
What if you are the abuser or need help?
- The anger won’t stop. A simple swat on the backside turns into multiple hits that get harder and harder. Or you find yourself screaming louder and louder and can’t stop.
- You are emotionally disconnected from your child. Raising a child can be overwhelming, and maybe you are finding that you don’t want anything to do with your child. Day after day, you just want to be left alone and for your child to be quiet.
- The daily needs of your child seem overwhelming. Everyone struggles with balancing dressing, feeding, and getting kids to school or other activities, but if you continually can’t manage to do it, it’s a sign that something might be wrong.
- Other people have expressed concern. Are the words coming from someone you normally respect and trust? Denial is not an uncommon reaction, but it may be the wake-up call you need to change your actions.
Helping an abused or neglected child
It can be very stressful to decide if you should take action if you feel a child is being abused. How do you approach the alleged abused? Or what if a child comes to you? Child abuse is a difficult subject to accept and can be very difficult to take action.
Just remember, you can make a huge difference in the life of an abused child, especially you act early. If you speak to the abused child, remain calm and offer reassurance and unconditional support. Talking about the abuse may be very difficult for the child, and it’s your job to reassure the child that you will provide help wherever you can.
Tips for talking to an abused child
- Avoid denial and remain calm. If a child comes to you and tells you about an abuse problem, avoid showing any shock or disgust at what they are saying. This may scare them into shutting down and not talking. Just remain calm and reassuring.
- Don’t interrogate. Allow the child to explain the whole situation without asking questions or leading them. Let them get the whole story out before you interrupt.
- Reassure the child that they did nothing wrong. It takes a brave child to come forward about abuse and you need to respect that and reassure them that it’s not their fault and you will help them through this. The last thing they want to think is that they are alone.
- Safety comes first. If you feel that your safety or the safety of the child would be threatened if you try to intervene, leave it to the professionals such as SAFELine. It would be wise to have a professional with you when the subject is approached to the alleged abuser.
Reporting child abuse and neglect
If you suspect a child is being abused, it’s critical to get them the help he or she needs immediately. Call the SAFELine- 456-SAFE. If you are close to the suspected abuser, you may feel comfortable enough talking to them. Encourage them to seek help- maybe they have an untreated mental illness or have suffered from child abuse in their past. The abuser may need the reassurance that seeking help is ok and needed to provide their family a safe environment. It can be a scary and frustrating time for that individual as well.
Overall, put your mind at ease about reporting this behavior. It can save someone’s life! Here are just some of the worries when someone is contemplating reporting abuse.
- I don’t want to interfere. The effects of child abuse are lifelong, and will affect any future relationships, self-esteem, and put the child at more risk of abuse as the cycle continues. Only you can help break the cycle of child abuse.
- What if I break up someone’s home? Reporting child abuse does not mean a child is automatically removed from the home – unless the child is clearly in danger. Support services such as parenting classes, anger management or other resources may be offered first to parents first if the child is safe.
- I don’t want them to know it was me that called. Reporting is anonymous. The child abuser cannot find out who made the report of child abuse. The only concern should be helping the child.
- It probably won’t matter if I say anything. If you really feel that something is wrong, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You might not have all the facts or know the whole situation, but if you really fear for a child, you can help them.