There are four types of cruelty that are considered child abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. A child who is being abused may experience more than one kind of cruelty.
It can be difficult to know whether a child is being abused, even if you have a lot of contact with the family concerned, as the abuser may be secretive about their actions. However, there are signs of child abuse to look out for.
Physical signs can include unexplained cuts, bruises, burns, bite or welt marks on the child's body and/or soreness, pain or bruises around the genitals or mouth.
Other signs of abuse can show up in the child's behavior, including:
- becoming withdrawn, secretive or very clingy,
- a fear of adults,
- problems in school,
- nightmares and bedwetting, and
- aggression or antisocial behavior.
The child may also self-harm, have an eating disorder, depression, a drug or alcohol problem, or suicidal behavior.
Common signs of a neglected child may include the child being unwashed, often seeming very hungry, or wearing unsuitable clothing for the weather (for example, no coat when it's cold). The child may constantly have head lice or you may notice wounds that haven't been treated. Another sign is that the child may never seem to have any adult supervision.
If the abuse is sexual, then the child may also express inappropriate interest or knowledge of sexual acts. On the other hand, they may avoid talking about anything related to sexuality and sex.
The signs listed above do not necessarily mean that a child is being abused. For example, bedwetting is a common condition that can affect any child. Use your own judgement but don't be afraid to speak up if you're worried about a child.
If you are concerned that a child you know is being abused then contact your local social services, or the police.