Knowing how to identify the signs of abuse and neglect can save a child’s life

Child abuse and neglect are serious issues that impact thousands of children every year. And, child abuse can cause long-term physical, emotional and mental damage.

According to our partners at Darkness to Light, a non-profit advocacy organization for abused children, at least 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. In fact, children are much more likely to be abducted or abused by someone they know. In 2018, nearly 1,770 children died of abuse and neglect in the United States alone.

The four common types of abuse and neglect:

Physical abuse is the intentional use of physical force that can result in physical injury. Examples include hitting, kicking, shaking, burning or other forms of force against a child.

Sexual abuse involves pressuring or forcing a child to engage in sexual acts. It includes behaviors such as fondling, penetration and exposing a child to other sexual activities. Please see 5 Steps to Protecting Children for more information.

Emotional abuse refers to behaviors that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being. Examples include name-calling, shaming, rejection, withholding love and threatening.

Neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs. These needs include housing, food, clothing, education and access to medical care.

What are the consequences?

There are many long-term and negative results of abuse that can determine how children feel about themselves. Abuse can lead to chronic conditions like obesity, cancer and heart disease. Mental health conditions can include depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Many victims of abuse are also at risk of re-victimization later in life. For example, sexual child abuse victims are twice as likely to experience non-sexual intimate partner violence. Abused males are six times more likely to attempt suicide. Comparatively, for women with a history of sexual abuse, the odds of attempting suicide is nine times higher.

How can I help? Become a trusted adult!

As a trusted adult, here are things you can do to demonstrate to children that you are a safe adult.

Respect children’s bodies and boundaries

Trusted adults teach children at an early age to assert their boundaries and have control of their own bodies. They help children understand that they can assert their own boundaries and to respect the boundaries of others.

Listen and respond to children’s concerns

If a child comes to you with safety concerns, it is very important that they be taken seriously. By listening closely and treating the issue thoughtfully, you help build confidence in children that they can trust you to help. This also empowers them to be diligent about their own safety.

Model and bring awareness to other adults

Addressing the subject of child abuse with family and friends can be difficult. However, doing nothing puts innocent children at risk and allows bad behavior to continue. When advocating for children, practicing boundaries, listening and responding to their needs, it’s critical to educate those around you. Engage with and educate adults about why you are a practicing ally for children and the importance of doing so.

Additional resources for help

The CDC’s Web page includes information on how to prevent child abuse as well as links to additional information, expert commentary and video resources. The site also shares information on common child abuse situations for parents and trusted adults and helps them build safe, stable and nurturing relationships with children.