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How to Recognize the Signs of Child Abuse


Recognizing child abuse is tricky. Many people imagine that child abuse will be obvious: bruises, injuries, and so on. That’s not always the case. Abusers often train children to hide what’s being done to them. However, there are still signs you can look out for.

Before we go forward, it’s essential to know that there are several different forms of child abuse:

  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Emotional
  • Neglect

Some signs of child abuse might be present no matter which kind of abuse occurs, while others indicate a particular type of abuse. It’s also likely that if someone is abusing a child, more than one type of abuse is happening.

If you want to help a child you think might be an abuse victim, remember that you don’t need proof. Reach out to child abuse prevention services in your area so the professionals can investigate.

Here are some signs to look out for:

General Signs

  • Afraid to leave school
  • Self-isolating
  • Being jumpy when people try to touch them
  • Running away
  • Unrealistic, rehearsed stories in response to questions about their home life



All children will get a few injuries that don’t indicate child abuse. It’s just part of being a kid. Some physical injuries are questionable, though.

  • Does that child have injuries that are at different stages of healing? Non-abusive injuries come from isolated accidents. Repeated injuries with a mix of both old and new are suspicious.
  • Are there burns? Burns are uncommon injuries, especially in children who are too young to cook. Shapes that look like cigarette burns are particularly suspicious. They indicate that a parent may have purposely burned a child with a cigarette.
  • Are the child’s injuries part of a pattern? If they all look similar — for instance, if they’re all the same shape — they may be the marks of repeated abuse.

Sexual Abuse

  • Reluctance to be around a particular person but unwilling to give a reason
  • Sexual talk beyond the knowledge they should have at their age
  • Sexual overtures towards other children or adults. Many children experiencing sexual abuse have learned to associate sexual behavior with being loved.

Emotional Abuse

  • Frightened of being “bad” or making mistakes
  • Extreme obedience, as though the child is terrified of what will happen otherwise
  • Acting out
  • Repeatedly engages in bullying and cyberbullying


  • Unclean clothes
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Hoarding or stealing food
  • Excessive absences
  • Medical neglect


For a long time, many people were uneducated about the signs of child abuse. It was common for teachers and other adults to interpret symptoms of child abuse as naughty behavior in the past.

Nowadays, we know that many children who are experiencing abuse act out or behave differently from their peers. Still, reporting child abuse can be challenging. It’s easy to think, “But what if I’m wrong?”

That’s a genuine concern, but don’t let it stop you. If you’re wrong, the professionals will investigate and then close the case. If you’re right, you’ll save a child.

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