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What is child abuse?

When a person who is responsible for a child injures that child's body or feelings, that is child abuse. Any family, and any gender, can experience it. Even after a physical injury has healed, hurt feelings (or emotional trauma) frequently persist. The key to ensuring the safety of all children is understanding the risks of abuse and what to do if you suspect it.

What kinds of child abuse are there?

There are a few different types. It's important to have an idea of what each of them entails so that you know how to know if you're seeing signs of it. These include:


  • Physical abuse occurs when a child's body is injured. For instance, my mother use to strike me with a belt to inflict pain as punishment for the slightest infraction. Physical abuse can also include shaking, pushing, choking, punching, painful grabbing, and kicking.

  • Sexual abuse occurs when an adult engages in sexual activity with a person who's under the age of 18. Most cases involve a close trusted adult or family member who abuses the child's trust.

  • Neglect occurs when an adult fails to provide for a child in a reasonable manner (e.g., by not providing adequate housing, food, clothing, healthcare, supervision, attention, schooling).

  • Emotional abuse (a.k.a., psychological abuse) occurs when adults who are responsible for a child judge, threaten, degrade, or reject them while withholding their love. My parents were masters of this. They never showed me love, even though they taught me to be quite the people pleaser. Instead, my mom would frequently yell at me and tell me how “dumb” I was.

  • Medical abuse occurs when a child receives excessive medical attention from an adult caregiver, such as medications, appointments, surgeries, or unnecessary lab tests.

Who abuses children, and why?

Child abusers come in all different shapes and sizes. Most of the time, the abuser is well known to the victim. Sometimes those who abuse children themselves were abused as youngsters. People who harm children can occasionally display some symptoms. This is why it's known as a form of “generational trauma.” It's also why those of us who've been abused must work hard to ensure it ends with us and that we don't abuse our children.

What indicators of child abuse exist?

It can be difficult for children to report abuse. Therefore, it's helpful to be aware of the symptoms of child abuse. Children who are being abused may:


  • Frequently bruise, especially in areas where they don't typically bruise while playing.

  • Have explanations for injuries that don't make sense or that are constantly changing.

  • Not wish to return home. (This is one of the ways that child abuse showed up in my life, but unfortunately, nobody seemed to notice. Therefore, please pay special attention to this one.

  • Stay away from their abusers.

  • Avoid being in a crowd.

  • Exhibit symptoms of emotional trauma, (e.g., fear, rage, difficulty connecting with or trusting others. cutting themselves, having nightmares, having difficulty sleeping, becoming overly animated).

These signs do not always indicate abuse. Children who are experiencing very stressful situations may also act depressed, irate, or withdrawn. However, it is more obvious when behavioral issues occur in addition to physical symptoms of abuse.

What should you do if you suspect child abuse?

Not all allegations of child abuse are confirmed, but each deserves thoughtful consideration and prompt action. The sooner abuse is discovered and stopped, the sooner children and families can receive medical care, therapy, and counseling. Therefore, speak up if you suspect abuse. Take a child's allegations of abuse seriously. All children deserve to be heard, cared for, and supported. Contact your neighborhood's child protective services agency, police department, or hospital if you suspect a child is being abused or if a child informs you of abuse. The Child Help National Child Abuse Hotline can be reached at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). There's no need to disclose your name.


Healing Family Trauma Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, PA, focuses on healing intergenerational family trauma. I'm available to offer support to individuals and families who have experienced trauma. I look forward to working with you. Together we can overcome!

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