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What is child abuse?

Child abuse is hurting a child. It occurs when a child experiences harm or neglect. Often, the abuser is someone the child knows. It may be a parent, family member, caregiver or family friend.

Most U.S. child abuse laws agree on this definition of child abuse: Any intentional harm or mistreatment of a child under age 18 is abuse and a criminal offense.

Another term for child abuse and neglect is adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). If untreated, these experiences can impact a child’s lifelong health and well-being.

What are the types of child abuse?

Child abuse can come in many forms:

  • Physical: Slapping, pushing, punching, kicking, shaking or burning a child or not allowing a child to eat, drink or use the bathroom.
  • Emotional: Frequently verbal, involving insults, constant criticism, harsh demands, threats and yelling.
  • Sexual: Rape, incest, fondling, indecent exposure, using a child in pornography or exposing a child to pornographic material.
  • Medical: Intentionally trying to make a child sick or not treating a medical condition.

Is child neglect a form of child abuse?

Yes. Child neglect is a form of abuse. Neglect is failing to provide a child with food, shelter, education, medical care and emotional support.What is incest?

Incest is a sexual act between family members who are too closely related to be legally married. The sex act can be anything from fondling to intercourse. Any sexual act with a child is abuse.

How does sexual abuse affect a child?

Researchers have noted certain characteristics in children who have experienced abuse. Some behaviors may be more noticeable, such as:

  • Acting out sexually in inappropriate ways.
  • Chronic belly pain, headaches or other physical complaints.
  • Return to childish behaviors such as thumb-sucking and bedwetting.
  • Running away.
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as cutting and self-harm.
  • Severe behavioral changes.

Other characteristics may be harder to identify, such as:

  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Difficulty learning and concentrating.
  • Evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Lack of emotional development.
  • Poor self-esteem.
  • Recurring nightmares.
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or attempts.
  • How common is child abuse?

    Child neglect and child abuse are common. At least 1 in 7 children has experienced neglect in the past year. The actual figure is likely higher. In the United States in 2018, nearly 1,770 children died of abuse and neglect.

    Who is more at risk of child abuse and neglect?

    Some children are at higher risk of experiencing abuse and neglect. Risk factors include children who:

    • Live in poverty. Rates of child abuse are five times higher for children in families with low socioeconomic status.
    • Are younger than 4 years of age.
    • Have special needs, which increase the burden on caregivers.What are signs of child abuse?

      Signs of child abuse may not be obvious. You may first notice a shift in the child’s behavior. Or they may react differently to situations. Any change in a child’s behavior or temperament without an obvious trigger can be a sign of abuse.

      Other signs of child abuse include:

      Physical signs:

      • Looking unclean or neglected.
      • Unexplained bruises, welts, sores or skin problems that don’t seem to heal.
      • Untreated medical or dental problems.
      • Pain in the genital area.
      • Vaginal bleeding other than a menstrual cycle (period).
      • Unusual discharge or pain.

      Emotional signs:

      • Fear of one or both parents or caregivers (including babysitters, day care workers, teachers and coaches).
      • Fear of an activity or place.
      • Crying often or in situations that seem inappropriate.
      • Regression (returning to behaviors typical of a younger child).
      • Who can be an abuser?

        Frequently, the abuser is someone the child knows and is close to, including;

        • Parent or other family member.
        • Family friend.
        • Caregiver.
        • Anyone close to the child (teacher, coach, religious leader).
        • Peers or older children who have experienced abuse themselves and are re-enacting what happened to them.