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Indicators of Abuse

The following information suggests both physical and emotional indicators to be aware of when you are concerned about the possibility of a child being abused. These indicators are here grouped into the four main categories of child abuse, but may manifest in any combination.

Indicators of Neglect:
  • Failure to provide food, shelter, medicine, etc., to such a degree that a child's health and safety are endangered
  • Child left unattended in public place
  • Child dressed inappropriately for weather conditions
  • Lack of proper diet and appropriate hygiene
  • Child doesn't want to leave school
  • Child is constantly tired
  • Child left alone with no supervision
  • Child has unmet physical, emotional or medical needs

Indicators of Physical Abuse:
  • Bruises, welts, burns, cuts, broken bones, sprains, bites, etc. that are deliberately inflicted
  • Any unexplained injuries such as: bruises, welts, burns, fractures, dislocations, lacerations, abrasions, bite marks or scars
  • Any injuries that do not match a child's description of how they occurred (fracture from falling off sofa, etc.)
  • Injuries in the shape of the article used (electric cord, belt, buckle, etc.) and/or injuries that do not match
  • Internal bleeding
  • Repeated and/or frequent injuries

Indicators of Sexual Abuse:
  • Difficulty in walking or sitting
  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
  • Pain, swelling or itching in genital area
  • Pain when urinating or defecating
  • Bruises, bleeding or lacerations in external genitalia, vaginal or anal areas
  • Vaginal or penile discharge
  • Sexually transmitted disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Unusual fear of a caregiver
  • Unusually close relationship with a caregiver
  • Withdrawal, fantasy or infantile behavior
  • Compulsive masturbation; excessive or unusual rubbing of the genital area
  • Excessive clinging
  • Confiding in someone but not telling the whole story ("We have a secret, but I can't tell." Or, "I want to tell you something but I can't." etc.)
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • General appearance - a child's appearance improves dramatically, or a child who was previously very concerned about his or her appearance now shows no interest in it
  • Child doesn't want to go home
  • Child runs away from home
  • Child becomes involved with drugs
  • Child becomes involved with alcohol
  • Child talks about or attempts suicide
  • Child becomes a loner - withdrawn
  • Child is extremely sensitive - overreacts to class correction, etc.
  • Mood swings
  • Overly modest
  • Inconsistency in academic performance
  • Rebellion
  • Emotional outbursts: crying without explanation, unexplained anger
  • Excessive daydreaming
  • Extreme closeness to someone of same sex (inseparable)
  • Difficulty in relating to one sex or the other, poor peer relationships
  • Extremely strong, negative reaction to character challenge
  • Lying - self preservation - subtle manipulation
  • Inconsistency in answering questions directed to him or her
  • Regression of younger child (elementary age) - thumb sucking, baby talk, bedwetting or soiling of clothes
  • Young child having sophisticated knowledge of sex: inappropriate interest in, knowledge of, or acting out of sexual matters
  • Child acting out physically and/or sexually with peers
  • Sexually abused children often have speech or sleep disorders
  • They tend to fail to grow normally
  • Are very aggressive or withdrawn
  • Show an abnormal need for emotional support
  • Poor self-image
  • Self-destructive behavior

Indicators of Mental Abuse:
  • Speech or sleep disorders
  • Failure to grow normally
  • Slow mental or emotional development
  • Sallow, empty facial expression
  • Very aggressive or withdrawn
  • Abnormal need for emotional support
  • Habit disorders: sucking, biting, rocking
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Hyperactive or disruptive behavior
  • Neurotic traits: sleep disorders, inhibited play, unusual fearfulness
  • Depression
  • Poor self-image
  • Isolation - poor peer relationships
  • Behavioral extremes: compliant and passive, or aggressive and demanding
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Delinquency or 'runaway' behavior
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
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