Facts About Child Abuse

What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse is the exploitation or coercion of a child. Child sexual abuse involves a continuum of behavior that ranges from verbal, non-physical abuse to forcible touching offenses. It can range from a single encounter with an exhibitionist, to confusing occasional fondling by a casual acquaintance, to years of ongoing abuse by a relative or family member, to rape and/or exploitation through prostitution and pornography.

Who are the Offenders?
Child sexual abusers are likely to be people we know, and could even care about. Most child abusers are fathers, step-parents, grandparents and other family members. Older children and peers also abuse children. Offenders may be neighbors, babysitters, ministers, teachers, coaches, or anyone else who has close contact with our children. Up to eighty percent of all cases include an offender who is someone the child knows or trusts. In approximately half of these cases, the trusted adult is a father or stepfather.

What is physical child abuse?
Child physical abuse and neglect occur when a child’s physical health or welfare is harmed or threatened with harm by the acts or omissions of his or her parent(s) or caregiver(s). Harm refers to infliction of physical pain, resulting in injury, disfigurement or impairment of any bodily organ or death.

Neglect, or “harm through omission,” refers to a failure to provide the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, supervision or health care, providing the parent or guardian is financially able to do so.


  • An estimated 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before age 18.
  • In 90% or more of child sexual abuse cases, the child is abused by someone he or she knows and trusts.
  • 60% of children who are sexually abused are abused by people the family trusts.
  • An estimated 9 out of 10 cases of child sexual abuse are never reported.
  • The average sexual abuse “incident” is not a one-time event. Rather, it is an ongoing cycle of exploitation that lasts for one or more years.
  • Sexual abuse of children occurs in every class, race, religion, neighborhood, cultural and ethnic group.
  • The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect estimates as many as 100,000 to 200,000 children are physically abused each year. Five times as many are neglected.
  • Abuse is the second leading cause of death, behind Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, for children 0-5 years of age.
  • Domestic violence is any physical or emotional behavior perpetrated by one person toward another to control the other person’s behavior, regardless of injury or frequency of incident.
  • Children in homes where domestic violence occurs are physically abused or neglected at a rate 1500% higher than the national average.
  • Nationally, 75% of battered women say their children are also battered.
  • 53% of battering husbands also batter their children.

Safe vs. Unsafe Touching

What It Is Not.
Child sexual abuse is NOT the same as fond and playful ways of showing love. Hugs and kisses can be good-within limits.

Setting Family Safety Rules.
Here are some rules that you as a parent can help your children learn concerning touching:

  • It is never okay for grownups or older kids to touch your private body parts-except to keep you healthy and clean.
  • If someone touches your private body parts and asks you to keep it a secret, tell someone about it right away. If the first person doesn’t believe you, someone else will.
  • Anytime you feel mixed up about a touch…tell the person to stop and talk to a grown-up you trust.

Repeat these rules to your child again and again. By teaching touching safety, you will NOT scare your child or make him or her afraid of good, healthy touching. You WILL be giving your child skills to stop unsafe touching. Children feel good knowing they can help themselves.

What to look for
How can I tell if a child has been sexually abused?
Children often don’t tell about sexual abuse. Watch for these signs:

  • Sudden change in the way the child acts
  • Aggression or acting out
  • Seductive behavior with friends, babysitters or other adults
  • Fear of being alone with a certain person
  • Excessive play with his or her own private body parts
  • Change in how much the child eats (more or less)
  • Unhappiness and withdrawal
  • Bed-wetting and nightmares
  • Too much crying

Any one of the above does not necessarily mean sexual abuse has occurred. These are signs the child may have a problem that needs attention.

There also may be physical signs:

  • Physical pain in the area of private body parts
  • Blood-stained underwear
  • Rectal bleeding

If these signs appear, take your child to your doctor right away!

How can I tell if a child is being physically abused or neglected?
Physical abuse is most often indicated by obvious signs of physical injuries:

  • Unexplained bruises and welts:
    • On the face, lips and mouth
    • In various states of healing (bruises of different colors, for example, or old and new scars together)
    • On large areas of the torso, back, buttocks, or thighs.
    • In clusters, forming regular patterns, or reflective of the article used to inflict them (electrical cord, belt buckle).
    • On several different surface areas (indicating the child has been hit from different directions).
    • Appearing as identical marks on both sides of the body.
  • Unexplained Burns, including:
    • Cigar or cigarette burns, especially on the soles of the feet, palms, back or buttocks.
    • Immersion or “wet” burns, including glove or sock-like burns and doughnut-shaped burns on the buttocks or genitals.
    • Patterned or “dry” burns, which show a clearly defined mark, left by the instrument used to inflict them (e.g., electrical burner).
    • Rope burns on the arms, legs, neck or torso.
  • Unexplained Fractures
    • To the skull, nose or facial features.
    • In various stages of healing (indicating they occurred at different times).
    • Multiple or spiral fractures.
    • Swollen or tender limbs.
    • Any fracture in a child under the age of two.
  • Unexplained Lacerations and Abrasions, including:
    • To the mouth, lips, gums or eyes.
    • To the external genitalia.
    • On the backs of arms, legs or torso.
  • Unexplained Abdominal Injuries, including:
    • Swelling of the abdomen.
    • Localized tenderness.
    • Constant vomiting.
    • Human bite marks (especially when they appear adult size or are recurrent).
    • Bald spots and scalp bruising (can be caused by hair pulling).
  • A physically abused child may:
    • Be wary of physical contact with adults (avoid or shrink away from any adult’s touch).
    • Display extreme behavior (extreme aggressiveness or extreme withdrawal).
    • Fear his or her parents.
    • Fear going home, or cry when it is time to leave a protected environment.
    • Report injuries.
    • Seem anxious to please and to let others say and do things to him/her without protest.
    • Frequently be late or absent from school.
    • Consistently arrive early to school or stay long after it is time to go home.
    • Wear extra clothing to conceal injuries.
    • Give unbelievable explanations for his or her injuries or claim no knowledge of the source of injuries.
    • Seek more than an average amount of affection from other adults.
    • Exhibit habit disorders (sucking, rocking, biting or eating disorders).
    • Have lags in emotional and intellectual development.
  • A physically abusive parent or caretaker may:
    • Use harsh discipline which does not fit the “offense” or the age of the child.
    • Complain that the child cries too much or “causes trouble.”
    • Be angry or defensive when asked about problems concerning the child, or appear uninterested and unconcerned.
    • Offer illogical or unconvincing explanations for a child’s injuries.
    • Appear cold or unloving toward the child.
    • Misuse drugs or alcohol.
    • Believe harsh, physical discipline is the only way to control the child.

Signs of Neglect
Indicators of neglect are often there most of the time. Ask yourself these questions: are the signs-that you might interpret as neglect-simply the expression of cultural differences, an alternative lifestyle, or are they actually true neglect?

Neglect, or “harm through omission,” refers to a failure to supply the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, supervision or health care, providing the parent or guardian is financially able to do so. Examples of neglect include:

  • Lack of proper supervision
  • Lack of protection
  • Lack of adequate clothing
  • Lack of a safe place to live
  • Lack of educational opportunity
  • Lack of adequate medical and dental care
  • Lack of proper hygiene
  • Deprivation of sleep
  • Leaving a child locked in a closet
  • Driving with children while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Failure to provide adequate nurture, affirmation or emotional support.
  • Consequences of child physical abuse and neglect

Child abuse and neglect may permanently or seriously damage the physical, emotional and mental development of the child. The physical effects may include damage to:

  • brain
  • vital organs
  • eyes
  • ears
  • arms
  • legs

These injuries may result in:

  • mental retardation
  • blindness
  • deafness
  • loss of a limb
  • death

Emotional damage is also serious. Abused children often display:

  • low self concept
  • poor academic performance
  • impaired thought processes
  • poor language development
  • poor perceptual and motor skills
  • aggression
  • anxiety and self-destructiveness

These characteristics may later lead to anti-social behavior, abuse of drugs or alcohol, suicide or prostitution.

Remember that if you have “suspicion” of abuse, you are a mandated reporter.