Relationships Violence and Abuse What Is Child Abuse? By Elizabeth Plumptre Elizabeth Plumptre LinkedIn Elizabeth is a freelance health and wellness writer. She helps brands craft factual, yet relatable content that resonates with diverse audiences. Learn about our editorial process Published on November 16, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP Medically reviewed by Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP Facebook LinkedIn Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified pediatric psychologist, parent coach, author, speaker, and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology, PLLC. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print LumiNola / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Indicators of Child Abuse Types of Child Abuse Impact of Child Abuse How to Manage the Effects of Child Abuse Child abuse is the wrongful treatment of a child. It may be in the form of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. This form of abuse may also be recognized as the exploitation of a child, as well as the failure to properly care for a child, otherwise known as neglect. Children that are subjected to abuse usually experience harm to their health, welfare, and self-respect. This article covers the many forms of child abuse, how each form impacts a child's mental and physical well-being, and discusses how childhood trauma can be treated. If you are a victim of child abuse or know someone who might be, call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 to speak with a professional crisis counselor. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. Indicators of Child Abuse When a child is experiencing ill-treatment from a caregiver or other person, there are signs that may indicate abuse. These include: Signs of Physical Abuse Unexplained facial injuriesInjuries on forearmsBurn marks on the skinBruises on the earsOral and dental injuriesDislocations around the bodyInternal damage Vomiting or breathing difficulties due to head trauma Signs of Sexual Abuse Bruising around the genitalsPainful urination or defecationDischarge around the genital or rectal areasDifficulty walking or sitting Signs of Neglect Poor hygieneImproper clothing during the seasonsLack of access to medical careWorsening medical conditionsPoorly-tended woundsHair lossMalnutritionLow weight Behavioral Cues of Child Abuse Excessive crying in infants Nightmares Bedwetting Poor concentration Development of phobias Eating issues Displays fear around parents/caregivers Speech difficulties Poor performance at school Substance abuse Discomfort while undressing Docile during physical exams Withdrawing when touched Mental Health Effects of Different Types of Abuse Types of Child Abuse Child abuse is committed in epidemic proportions in the United States. Every year, approximately one million childrenare deprived of a normal, harm-free childhood. Instead, they are subjected to the horrors of maltreatment in their formative stages. The abuse of children may take different forms, listed below. Physical Abuse This form of abuse refers to the deliberate physical harm of a child by parents or caregivers. Physical abuse affects around 18% of maltreated children, and is a leading cause of child deaths—homicide falling in second for the loss of infant lives younger than one. Physical abuse may involve hitting a child with hands or an object. Burning, biting, or physically restraining a child with the intent to do harm is also considered physical abuse. Children of all races, ethnicities and economic groups may be subject to physical abuse. It is, however, more commonly observed in boys and infant children. A child is also at a higher risk of physical abuse where they live with a disability or are under the care of an unmarried mother. There is also an increased chance of violence where a child is raised in poverty, or in a home where domestic violence is rampant. The same goes in situations where a child grows up with an unrelated adult, or with more than two siblings at home. Emotional Abuse This form of abuse may not always have the immediately apparent signs of physical harm but is no less painful. Emotional abuse occurs where a child is degraded, terrorized, isolated, or exploited by a parent/caregiver. This is seen where a child is constantly criticized, threatened, rejected, or given no support or love while growing up. In 2010, The Federal Report of Child Maltreatment Statistics stated that 8% of all reported cases of child maltreatment involve emotional abuse. There is a chance that cases of emotional abuse may be even higher than those reported. Sexual Abuse Sexual abuse refers to the forceful participation of children in sexual acts. It may also involve forcing a child to engage in sexual acts that they do not fully understand. This abuse may also force children to engage in sexual acts that they do not fully understand. Sexual abuse includes sexual assault, rape, incest, fondling, oral sexual contact, the commercial sexual exploitation of children, or genital/anal penetration. Sexual abuse is a worryingly common form of child abuse. By adulthood, it is estimated that 26% of girls and 5% of boys will experience this maltreatment. While sexual contact typically makes up sexual abuse, non-contact improper treatment may also come under the abuse classification. This includes the exposure of a child to sexual activity or taking inappropriate photographs of children. Neglect This is the failure of a caregiver/parent to meet the most basic needs of a child. It is the most common form of child abuse where approximately two-thirds of reports to child protective services are made over concerns of child neglect. Neglect takes many forms and can be observed where a child is not taken for regular doctor appointments, or is denied access to healthcare by a caregiver. This form of abuse is also apparent where a child is not given the right nutritional care, or when children are exposed to harmful substances like drugs. Impact of Child Abuse Abuse has far-reaching effects on every aspect of a child’s well-being. Impact of Physical Abuse Physically, children may suffer the pains of fractures, burns, facial or bodily disfigurement, and even seizures brought on by bodily maltreatment. The mental effects of this treatment may leave children with PTSD or even cognitive retardation. Impact of Emotional Abuse Emotional abuse may cause a disconnect in a child’s sense of self. This abuse could be responsible for negative disruptions in the brain, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, hostile behaviors, and noticeable delinquent habits such as alcohol use in early adulthood. Impact of Sexual Abuse The sexual abuse of children has both immediate and long-term effects on their well-being. Survivors of child sexual abuse may feel anger, guilt, and shame over the treatment they have endured. Children who have experienced sexual abuse are also at a higher risk of developing anxiety, depression, and inappropriate sexual behaviors in life. In later years, these survivors may experience problems like alcoholism, drug dependency, marriage/family difficulties, and a worrying preoccupation with suicide. Impact of Neglect A child left without the useful tools and care for proper development may perform poorly in school. This child is also likely to display emotional and behavioral problems as a result of their abandonment. Later difficulties in life like liver and heart disease may also be traceable to poor treatment received in childhood. How to Manage the Effects of Child Abuse In suspected cases of child abuse at the hands of a parent or caregiver, this treatment should be reported to child protection services or other relevant law enforcement agencies. Children that have been physically abused should then be stabilized, with examinations carried out to determine the extent of the ill-treatment endured. Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse victims, as well as children that have lived through neglect, need appropriate care. These children may be protected using treatments like psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. Therapy is useful for addressing the issues linked with abuse and neglect. It is also necessary to teach a child appropriate behaviors for adult-child relationships. Therapy can also provide a support system for poorly treated children. Medication may be recommended for the PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other pains associated with abusive treatment. Maltreatment is a painful thing to experience during development. The different forms of child abuse have far-reaching effects on welfare, but may be managed using the right methods. A Word From Verywell Child abuse is an alarmingly common form of abuse. With many different forms, children are exposed to multiple ripple effects from the maltreatment they've been subjected to. While recovery from a life punctuated by physical assault, sexual violence, or neglect can be difficult, healing is possible. Putting a child affected by abuse in therapy, or placing them on medication to manage adverse outcomes are effective ways to manage child abuse. To protect a child against abuse, it's important to report suspected cases of ill-treatment to the correct authorities. 10 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Gonzalez D, Bethencourt Mirabal A, McCall JD. Child Abuse and Neglect.In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan. Stanford Medicine. Child abuse. Mahoney J. Types of abuse. Nurs Clin North Am. 2011;46(4):385-v. doi:10.1016/j.cnur.2011.08.005 Brown CL, Yilanli M, Rabbitt AL. Child Physical Abuse And Neglect. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan. Shin SH, Lee S, Jeon SM, Wills TA. Childhood emotional abuse, negative emotion-driven impulsivity, and alcohol use in young adulthood. Child Abuse Negl. 2015;50:94-103. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2015.02.010 Murray LK, Nguyen A, Cohen JA. Child sexual abuse. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2014;23(2):321-337. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2014.01.003 Melmer MN, Gutovitz S. Child Sexual Abuse And Neglect. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan. Dubowitz H. Neglect in children. Pediatr Ann. 2013;42(4):73-77. doi:10.3928/00904481-20130326-11 Childwelfare.gov. Anthony U., Cynthia W. Treatment for Abused and Neglected Children: Infancy to Age 18. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons with Child Abuse and Neglect Issues. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2000. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 36.) Chapter 3—Comprehensive Treatment for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse and Neglect. By Elizabeth Plumptre Elizabeth is a freelance health and wellness writer. She helps brands craft factual, yet relatable content that resonates with diverse audiences. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? 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