Know the signs of child abuse!

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By Jennifer Kaysen

Signs of child abuse may not be immediately apparent to an outside observer. Often, a child has already been a victim of abuse for quite some time before it is even noticed. In any case, the damage will leave a lasting impression that will take time to rebuild trust and confidence.

You may feel that you can’t go around searching and watching a person’s every move, but with a knowledge of the signs and different types of abuse, you enable yourself to have an educated intuition if a situation ever arises.

Types of abuse:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Neglect

In most cases, a child won’t experience just one type of abuse on its own. A child that is sexually abused is also emotionally abused or a victim of physical abuse may also be neglected.

While physical abuse may leave evidence on the body where people can notice it, other types of abuse may not be as readily seen.

Some signs of physical abuse include:

  • Unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes
  • Fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school
  • Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home
  • Shrinks at the approach of adults
  • Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver

Physical abuse may be a possibility when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Offers conflicting, unconvincing, or no explanation for the child’s injury
  • Describes the child as “evil,” or in some other very negative way
  • Uses harsh physical discipline with the child
  • Has a history of abuse as a child

Signs of Sexual Abuse:

  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
  • Reports nightmares or bedwetting
  • Experiences a sudden change in appetite
  • Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
  • Becomes pregnant or contracts a venereal disease, particularly if under age 14
  • Runs away
  • Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver

Sexual abuse may be a possibility when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Is unduly protective of the child or severely limits the child’s contact with other children, especially of the opposite sex
  • Is secretive and isolated
  • Is jealous or controlling with family members

Signs of Emotional Abuse:

  • Shows extremes in behavior, such as overly compliant or demanding behavior, extreme passivity, or aggression
  • Is either inappropriately adult (parenting other children, for example) or inappropriately infantile (frequently rocking or head-banging, for example)
  • Is delayed in physical or emotional development
  • Has attempted suicide
  • Reports a lack of attachment to the parent or caregiver

Emotional abuse may be a possibility when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Constantly blames, belittles, or berates the child
  • Is unconcerned about the child and refuses to consider offers of help for the child’s problems
  • Overtly rejects the child

Signs of Neglect:

  • Is frequently absent from school
  • Begs or steals food or money
  • Lacks needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or glasses
  • Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor
  • Lacks sufficient clothing for the weather
  • Abuses alcohol or other drugs
  • States that there is no one at home to provide care

Neglect may be a possibility when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Appears to be indifferent to the child
  • Seems apathetic or depressed
  • Behaves irrationally or in a bizarre manner
  • Is abusing alcohol or other drugs

As you can see, the signs of abuse could be a number of things. But, with an understanding of the different types of abuse and an acknowledgement of a problem, a person can have the confidence to report the issue and make a difference in a child’s life. All of the above are not signs of a healthy upbringing and can lead to devastating and lasting effects on a child. As hard as the signs are to digest, we can’t turn the other cheek if we notice them. Being proactive presents an opportunity to save a child from the shame, pain, and consequences of abuse.

If you are aware of a victim of child abuse or neglect, don’t hesitate to call the New Jersey Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 1-877-NJ–Abuse.

Children are innocent. They deserve to have a big voice and need someone to step in and give them the hope and opportunity to develop for a brighter future.

Don’t forget that you can help! Become a supporter of CASA and our mission to be a voice for children who are victims of neglect and/abuse. You can also join the fight by registering and participating in the Superhero 5K Run/Walk and Family Fun Day. If you can’t participate, a donation would be greatly appreciated!

If you haven’t done so already, head over to Facebook and ‘like’ our page to stay up-to-date on the latest news from CASA!


Child Welfare Information Gateway. “Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect: Signs and Symptoms.” Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect: Signs and Symptoms. N.p., 2007. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.

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