Child Abuse

Do you know how to recognize the signs of child abuse? Do you know what to do if you suspect a child is being abused? Being able to recognize and properly respond to suspected child abuse can save the life of a child. Remember, child abuse includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and child neglect.

National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD

Mono Co. Child Protective Services: 760-932-7755

Inyo Co. Child Protective Services: 760-872-1727

child neglect

Child neglect is the most common form of child abuse. Neglect is a pattern of failing to provide for a child’s basic needs, which results in jeopardizing a child’s physical and psychological well-being. Child neglect is not always deliberate. At times, a caregiver may become physically or mentally unable to care for a child and other times, alcohol or drug abuse may dangerously impair their judgment and their ability to keep a child safe. Regardless of the cause, the end result is a child who is not getting their physical and emotional needs met.

Signs of child neglect may include:

  • Physical signs: A child is often dressed inappropriately for the weather, or they may be wearing ill-fitting, dirty clothes and shoes. They may look as if they have bad hygiene, such as dirty, matted and unwashed hair, rotting teeth, or very bad body odor. Another warning sign of neglect is a child who has untreated physical injuries, or is frequently sick without being treated.
  • Behavioral signs: A child may appear to be unsupervised most of the time. School age children may regularly be tardy or absent. The child may demonstrate troublesome and disruptive behavior or be withdrawn and submissive.
  • Caregiver signs: Neglectful caregivers may have problems with drugs or alcohol. A little clutter in the home is normal, but a home that is filthy and unsanitary may be a sign of neglecting the children who stay there. Oftentimes there is not adequate food in the house. A neglectful caregiver may also be irresponsible for a child’s safety, letting children play unsupervised or leaving a baby unattended, and might refuse or delay necessary health care for the child.

child sexual abuse

1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthdays, and the median age for reported child sexual abuse is 9. If you thought child sexual abuse was something rare in our society, we hope these numbers prompt you to think again. The American Medical Association defines child sexual abuse as “the engagement of a child in sexual activities for which the child is developmentally unprepared and cannot give informed consent.” Child sexual abuse is applied by deception, force and intimidation, and may consist of fondling, genital exposure, intimate kissing, forced masturbation, oral, penile or digital penetration of the mouth, vagina or anus. Child prostitution and pornography are also included in the definition of child sexual abuse.

We often impress upon our children the danger of talking to strangers, but the statistics prove that very rarely will a child be abused by a stranger. Children who are sexually abused are most often exploited by someone they know and trust. In fact, 90% of of abused children KNOW their abuser, and 40% of abused children are abused by a FAMILY member. A relative, childcare provider, friend of the family, a neighbor, teacher, coach, babysitter, or a clergy member are all potential abusers. Though it isn’t healthy to be suspicious and expect the worst of people, it is important to be conscious that sexual abuse can happen anywhere, and anyone can be a perpetrator. Perpetrators are typically normal people you personally know and trust. Anyone that has access to children can be a perpetrator.

The emotional damage caused by child sexual abuse is powerful and far reaching. Children almost always believe that the abuse is their fault, they feel extreme shame and guilt, and worry that no one will believe them or that they will be in trouble if they tell.

Signs of child sexual abuse may include:

  • Behavioral signs: A child might display knowledge of sexual acts that are inappropriate for their age. A child might appear to avoid certain people, or display either very aggressive or very passive behavior. Older children may engage in damaging behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse, self-mutilation, or attempting suicide.
  • Physical signs: A sexually abused child may have trouble walking, sitting or standing normally and may have stained, bloody or torn underclothes. Any rash, swelling, bruising or bleeding in the genital area, or urinary tract infections are red flags. A very strong cause for concern would be an STD or pregnancy, especially in a child under the age of 14. Remember that physical signs are rare,
  • Caregiver signs: Caregivers who seem unusually controlling and over-protective of a child, who limits contact with other children and adults, is cause for concern. As with other types of abuse, a neglectful caregiver may not show outward signs of concern.

Things you can do as an adult to prevent child sexual abuse

Talk about it!
  • Teach your children about their bodies and they they get to decide how others touch them. Abusers take advantage of children’s innocence about their bodies and sexual behaviors.
  • Many abusers will tell children that the abuse is a game or that it is normal; that it happens to every child, or that this is a special reward because they are loved more than other children. This is one of the big reasons why children don’t disclose abuse. Other times, the abuser has threatened them or another family member if they tell. Often, the abuser will try to make the child feel ashamed, that it was their fault that this happened or that their parents will be very upset if they told.
  • If a child discloses sexual abuse, BELIEVE THEM. False reports are very rare. Remain calm. Your reaction means a lot of this child.
    Teach your children when they are young that they should never have to keep a secret from you, especially if someone is hurting them.
Minimize Opportunity
  • Reduce one-adult/one-child situations. Do not foster an environment of privacy that could potentially allow sexual abuse to happen. Choose groups settings as much as possible. Set an example by not being alone with a child that isn’t your own.
  • One-on-one time with a trusted adult can help build healthy relationships in children, so when you know that your child will be alone with an adult, drop in unexpectedly, even on trusted family members. Always ask the adult about the specifics of planned activities before your child leaves with them. Make sure outings can be observed by someone. Most importantly, talk with your child when they return. Can they tell you specifics about how they spent their time?
  • Insist that all organizations that you and your child are involved in have policies in place to prevent child sexual abuse. Do your homework. Does your school, church, sports leagues, or other organizations require background checks, personal interviews, and recommendations for all their staff? Have the members or employees been trained in how to prevent or recognize child sexual abuse?
Be conscious
  • Learn and be aware of some of the signs of child abuse in children.
  • Be aware that some children will not exhibit any signs of abuse at all.
Trust Your Gut
  • Trust yourself enough to respond to your suspicions. Remember, you might be saving the life of a child.
  • Report any suspicions to law enforcement or Child Protective Services. Unless you are a mandated reporter (someone whose profession puts them in contact with children-doctors, teachers, school administrators, etc) you are able to make this report anonymously.
  • If a child discloses abuse to you, make sure the let them know that it is NOT their fault, that you BELIEVE them, and that they are BRAVE for telling someone. However, make sure NOT to ask specific or leading questions about the abuse. It is important to seek professional help right away.

emotional child abuse

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” This old saying could not be farther from the truth. Emotional child abuse may seem invisible, but the effects are long-lasting and very damaging. Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating, making negative comparisons to others, continually telling a child they are “no good,” “worthless,” “bad,” or “a mistake” are all forms of harmful emotional abuse. It is not only what is said, but how a child is spoken to – such as yelling, threatening, or bullying – can terrify a child as well. Withholding love and affection, ignoring or rejecting a child, or giving them the silent treatment can also have damaging effects.

Another piece of emotional abuse is exposing a child to inappropriate situations or behavior. Witnessing acts that cause feelings of helplessness and terror, such as domestic violence or witnessing a sibling or pet being abused can cause long-lasting trauma in a child.

Signs of emotional child abuse may include:

  • Behavioral signs: Emotional abuse is often difficult to detect because it does not leave any obvious marks. Behavioral extremes, such as excessive shyness or being overly afraid of doing something wrong may be a clue that a child is being emotionally abused. Antisocial behavior, uncontrolled aggression and inappropriate age behaviors such as an older child showing behaviors commonly found in younger children are all signs of emotional abuse.
  • Caregiver signs: Emotionally abusive caregivers may have issues with controlling their anger and have an excessive need for control. They may be unusually harsh or critical of a child, belittling or shaming them in front of others. A caregiver might also seem strangely indifferent to a child’s well-being or performance. It is important to remember there may not be immediate signs from a caregiver. Many emotionally abusive caregivers present a kind face to the outside world, making the abuse all the more confusing and scary for the child.

physical child abuse

Often, physically abusive parents and caregivers claim that their actions are just forms of discipline – ways to make a child learn to behave. But, twisting a child’s arm until it breaks is not discipline – it is abuse. Physical abuse can include striking a child with the hand, fist, and foot or with an object, burning, shaking, pushing, or throwing a child; pinching or biting a child, pulling a child by the hair or cutting off a child’s airway.

Signs of physical child abuse may include:

  • Physical signs: Usually, physical abuse has clear warning signs, like unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts. All children will take a tumble now and then, but warning signs to watch for include age-inappropriate injuries, injuries that appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt, or a pattern of severe injuries. Often, multiple bruises in different stages of healing can be another sign of physical abuse.
  • Behavioral signs: At times, signs of physical abuse may be more inconspicuous. The child may be overly fearful, shy away from touch or be afraid to go home. A child wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather, such as heavy, long sleeved pants and shirts on hot days, may be a sign that physical injuries are being covered up.
  • Caregiver signs: Physically abusive caregivers may have trouble controlling their anger and have an excessive need for control. Their explanation for a child’s injury might not ring true, or may be different from an older child’s description of how the injury occurred.