What is Child Abuse?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines child maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver (e.g., clergy, coach, teacher) that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.

Child neglect is failure to provide for a child’s basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, or proper supervision. Some signs are:

• The child shows signs of malnutrition or begs, steals, or hoards food.
• The child has poor hygiene: matted hair, dirty skin, or severe body odor.
• The child has unattended physical or medical problems.
• The child states that no one is home to provide care.

Child sexual abuse refers to any sexual act with a child by an adult or another child of any age. It includes, but is not limited to, fondling or rubbing the child’s genitals, penetration, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and using the child for prostitution or the production of pornographic materials.

Sexual abuse is a crime of secrecy. It is estimated that only 10% of child sex abuse cases are ever reported. 90% of the time, children are sexually abused by someone they know.

The child may experience pain or bleeding in anal or genital areas, with possible redness or swelling. He or she may have difficulty and/or pain when sitting or walking. The child may display age-inappropriate behaviors with toys, themselves, or others and possibly have inappropriate sexual knowledge. Other possibilities include sleep disturbances or nightmares, depression, unusual aggression, interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature. These symptoms are not the only possible indicators of sexual abuse.

Child physical abuse is intentional injury inflicted upon a child. It may include severe shaking, beating, kicking, punching, or burning that result in minor marks, bruising, bone fractures, brain trauma, or even death. The child may have broken bones or unexplained bruises, burns, or welts in various stages of healing. The child might be unable to explain an injury or explanations given by the child or caretaker are inconsistent with the injury. He or she may also be unusually frightened of a parent or caretaker.

Emotional abuse may occur when a parent fails to provide the understanding, warmth, attention, and supervision the child needs for healthy psychological growth. The parent or caretaker might constantly criticize, threaten, belittle, insult, or reject the child with no evidence of love, support, or guidance. The child may exhibit extremes in behavior from overly aggressive to overly passive. He or she may show signs of academic difficulty, failure to thrive, eating disorders, depression, insomnia, frequent lying, substance abuse, any age-inappropriate behavior and even suicide attempts.

Children react differently depending on age, extent of abuse, support from others and their relationship to the offender. The single most important factor affecting the child’s recovery is the level of support from the caregiver. If you do everything you can to support your child, the chances of recovery are much greater.