Signs of Child Abuse

There are many kinds of child abuse: Emotional, Physical, Sexual and Neglect.

While there are indicators of each that act as red flags and should cause you to take a closer look, it is not a given that a child exhibiting these behaviors is necessarily being abused.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional child abuse means injuring a child’s self-esteem or emotional well-being. It includes verbal and emotional assault — such as continually belittling or berating a child — as well as isolating, ignoring or rejecting a child.

Emotional abuse signs and symptoms:

› Delayed or inappropriate emotional development
› Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
› Social withdrawal or a loss of interest or enthusiasm
› Depression
› Headaches or stomachaches with no medical cause
› Avoidance of certain situations, such as refusing to go to school or ride the bus
› Desperately seeks affection
› A decrease in school performance or loss of interest in school
› Loss of previously acquired developmental skills
› Rebellious or defiant behavior
› Attempts at suicide

Physical Abuse

Physical child abuse occurs when a child is purposely physically injured or put at risk of harm by another person.

Physical abuse signs and symptoms:

› Unexplained injuries, such as bruises, fractures or burns
› Injuries that don’t match the given explanation
› Untreated medical or dental problems

Sexual Abuse

Sexual child abuse is any sexual activity with a child, such as fondling, oral-genital contact, intercourse or exposure to pornography.

Sexual abuse signs and symptoms:

› Sexual behavior or knowledge that’s inappropriate for the child’s age
› Pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection
› Blood in the child’s underwear
› Statements that he or she was sexually abused
› Trouble walking or sitting or complaints of genital pain
› Abuse of other children sexually

Child sex trafficking is considered a form of child sexual abuse.  The legal definition of child sex trafficking is recruiting, harboring, transporting, provision or obtaining a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.


Child neglect is failure to provide adequate food, shelter, affection, supervision, education or medical care.

Neglect signs and symptoms:

› Poor growth or weight gain
› Poor hygiene
› Lack of clothing or supplies to meet physical needs
› Taking food or money without permission
› Eating a lot in one sitting or hiding food for later
› Poor record of school attendance
› Lack of appropriate attention for medical, dental or psychological problems or lack of necessary follow-up care
› Emotional swings that are inappropriate or out of context to the situation
› Indifference

In many cases, child abuse is done by someone the child knows and trusts — often a parent or other relative.

If you suspect child abuse immediately report the abuse to the Department of Child Safety or your local Law Enforcement Agency.

Parental behavior in situations where child abuse or neglect may be occurring

Sometimes a parent’s demeanor or behavior sends red flags about child abuse. Warning signs include a parent who:

› Shows little concern for the child
Appears unable to recognize physical or emotional distress in the child
Denies that any problems exist at home or school, or blames the child for the problems
Consistently blames, belittles or berates the child and describes the child with negative terms, such as “worthless” or “evil”
Expects the child to provide him or her with attention and care and seems jealous of other family members getting attention from the child
Uses harsh physical discipline or asks teachers to do so
Demands an inappropriate level of physical or academic performance
Severely limits the child’s contact with others
Offers conflicting or unconvincing explanations for a child’s injuries or no explanation at all