Signs and Symptoms of Child Abuse

Knowing the signs and symptoms of child abuse not only will protect your own children from those out in the world, but it may give you the knowledge to protect someone else’s child as well.

If you suspect a child is being abused, report it to the proper authorities. That’s the law and it is the only choice when children are involved in abuse.

The Warning Signs of Child Abuse

There are many warning signs of abuse of children. One sign, one or two times, does not necessarily mean anything. Keep watching before you jump to conclusions but once you are reasonably sure, report it to the proper authorities.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse involves any physical damage to the body. Oftentimes a child will be reluctant or vague about where marks and sores have originated.

  • Sores
  • Burns
  • Bruises on body

It may be difficult to discern physical abuse from common physical injuries. Some common areas of injury (such as bruises and scrapes) for children are the forehead, crown, elbows, knees, knuckles and shins. Common sites for non-accidental injuries (i.e., potential abuse) include:

  • Eyes
  • Ears
  • Cheek
  • Mouth
  • Chest
  • Upper and inner arm
  • Front and back of thighs
  • Buttocks
  • Genitals


Neglect does not involve violent physical contact with the body. It involves being unable, or unwilling, to provide the necessities of life to a child. These include food, water, shelter, clean clothes and access to proper hygiene.

  • Soiled diapers
  • Dirty hair
  • Unwashed clothes
  • Body odor
  • Weight loss
  • Lackluster skin and/or hair

Emotional or Mental Abuse

This is one form of abuse that may be difficult to recognize since the effects are extremely covert and not visible to the eye. Abused children are often quiet and lack the self-confidence to report their treatment but can manifest their suffering in other ways:

  • Withdrawn
  • Suddenly behaves differently
  • Wets the bed and/or soils clothes
  • Depressed
  • Aggressive
  • Self harm and/or thoughts about suicide

Sexual Abuse

In 1999, the World Health Organization (WHO) Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention formulated this very clear definition of child sexual abuse:

“Child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society.”

Noticing the signs of sexual abuse can be tricky if there are no physical marks. However, there are many symptomatic behaviors that a child may exhibit if they have experienced sexual abuse:

  • Precocious behavior
  • Sexual knowledge that is beyond what is normal for their age
  • Copying adult sexual behavior such as kissing on the mouth and/or attempting to insert tongue
  • Habitual sleeping with parent of opposite sex in preteen age or older
  • Persistent sexual play with other children, themselves, toys or pets
  • Soreness, redness and/or chafing around the genitals

Reporting Child Abuse

If you notice a pattern of any of these signs, please do not hesitate to contact the authorities or Child Protective Services. Even if you doubt yourself, there’s no harm in having potential abuse investigated.

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