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Know the Signs of Abuse

See Something, Say Something


1 in 10 children are abused before their 18th birthday.

One out of every ten children will experience abuse or neglect. It's not pleasant to hear or think about, but it's a harsh reality.

You can help protect children from abuse and neglect by knowing the warning signs and reporting cases of suspected abuse.

The Types of Abuse & Neglect

Know what the forms of maltreatment are

Abuse and neglect can come in many forms. Whether it be physical, neglect, sexual abuse, abandonment, emotional or other forms, the impact abuse and neglect has on a child's mental wellbeing can be traumatic and last a lifetime.


Physical Abuse

A non-accidental physical injury to a child caused by a parent, caregiver, or other person responsible for a child. This can include punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing stabbing, choking, hitting (with a hand, stick, strap, or other object), burning, or otherwise causing physical harm.


The failure of a parent or other caregiver to provide for a child's basic needs. Neglect generally includes the following categories:

  • Physical (e.g., failure to provide necessary food or shelter, lack of appropriate supervision)

  • Medical (e.g., failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment, withholding medically indicated treatment from children with life-threatening conditions)

  • Educational (e.g., failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs)

  • Emotional (e.g., inattention to a child's emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, permitting a child to use alcohol or other drugs)

Sexual Abuse

Activities by a parent or other caregiver such as fondling a child's genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials.

Emotional Abuse

A pattern of behavior that impairs a child's emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection as well as withholding love, support, or guidance. Emotional support is often difficult to prove, and, therefore, child protective services may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm or mental injury to the child.


A child is considered to be abandoned when the parent's identity or whereabouts are unknown, the child has been left alone in circumstances where the child suffers serious harm, the child has been deserted with no regard for his or her health or safety, or the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or provide reasonable support for a specified period of time.

Human Trafficking

A form of modern slavery that includes sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Sex trafficking is recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining someone for a commercial sex act, such as prostitution, pornography, or stripping. Labor trafficking is forced labor, including drug dealing, begging, or working long hours for little pay.

Recognizing the Signs & Symptoms

These signs may indicate abuse

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The first step in helping a child who has been abused or neglected is learning to recognize the signs of maltreatment. The presence of a single sign does not necessarily mean that child maltreatment is occurring in a family, but a closer look at the situation may be warranted when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination.

Signs of Physical Abuse
  • Unexplained injuries such as burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes

  • Fading bruises or other noticeable marks after an absence from school

  • Seems scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn, or aggressive

  • Abuses animals or pets

  • Seems frightened of his or her parents and protests or cries when it's time to go home

  • Shrinks at the approach of adults

  • Shows changes in eating and sleeping habits

  • Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver.

Signs of Physical Neglect
  • Is frequently absent from school

  • Begs or steals food or money

  • Lacks needed medical care (including immunizations), dental care, or glasses

  • Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor

  • Lacks sufficient clothing for the weather

  • Abuses alcohol or other drugs

  • States that there is no one at home to provide care

Signs of Sexual Abuse
  • Has difficulty walking or sitting

  • Experiences bleeding, bruising, or swelling in their private parts

  • Suddenly refuses to go to school

  • Reports nightmares or bedwetting

  • Experiences a sudden change in appetite

  • Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior

  • Becomes pregnant or contracts a sexually transmitted disease, particularly if under age 14

  • Runs away

  • Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver

  • Attaches very quickly to strangers or new adults in their environment

Signs of Emotional Maltreatment
  • Shows extremes in behavior, such as being overly compliant or demanding, extremely passive, or aggressive

  • Is either inappropriately adult (e.g., parenting other children) or inappropriately infantile (e.g., frequently rocking or head-banging)

  • Is delayed in physical or emotional development

  • Shows signs of depression or suicidal thoughts

  • Reports an inability to develop emotional bonds with others

Grooming a Victim

How an abuser builds trust

Few sexual abuse assaults against children are spontaneous acts. Preparation typically occurs gradually over a period of time.

In an effort to gain a child's trust (and that of close adults) many molesters will groom a child in preparation for the inappropriate contact.


The 3 most common stages of grooming

Offenders often tell a child that touching of this kind is good and pure and indicates just how special their relationship is. Offenders also work to convince the child that they are their advocate and understand and support them more than anyone else in their life.

Finally, it is not uncommon for a child to be given alcohol or drugs to decrease his or her boundaries. This introduction serves to further manipulate the child into silence as the molester suggests that the child will be in trouble if he or she “tells.” This process of grooming a child is documented, classic, sex offender behavior.

Child molesters most often select their victims carefully, typically targeting a child who is in need of attention, perhaps living in a single parent home and/or experiencing difficulty at school or in social settings. In short, the molester targets the child who might need the attention of an adult and be more willing to keep a secret in exchange for that valued attention.

When a question of abuse is raised, responsible adults often report that they have felt uneasy while witnessing interactions between a certain adult and child. They say they’ve witnessed “odd” or inappropriate behavior that left them feeling concerned. But they didn’t take action because, “this was a really nice person who seemed to genuinely care for children.”

Protecting children can occur in a variety of ways. A subtle conversation with a child can go a long way in protecting him or her against abuse. Adults can ensure that a questionable individual is not given access to children. In fact, offenders will often back off if they sense adults are being watchful. Then, if concerns remain, making a hotline call is always an appropriate action.

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