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Signs of Abuse and Neglect

Signs of abuse

Child abuse happens when a person – adult or child – harms a child. It can be physical, sexual or emotional, but can also involve a lack of love, care and attention. Neglect can be just as damaging to a child as physical or sexual abuse.

Abuse can be carried out by anyone, family members, friends, people you meet, people you know and strangers.

You or children and young people you know may be too frightened to tell anyone about their fears and problems. You or someone you know may feel confused, guilty or ashamed to tell someone especially if its someone you know. Don’t be frightened, abuse is not allowed.

Types of abuse

There are lots of different types of abuse. Below we explain what is meant by different forms of abuse.

Boy crying into his arms

Physical abuse 

Physical abuse happens when a child is deliberately hurt, causing injuries such as cuts, bruises, burns and broken bones. It can involve hitting, kicking, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or suffocating.

It’s also physical abuse if a parent or carer makes up or causes the symptoms of illness in children. For example, they may give them medicine they don’t need, making them unwell. This is known as fabricated or induced illness (FII).

Girl in white top on swing


Neglect is continually failing to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs usually resulting in serious damage to their health and development. Neglect may involve a parent’s or carer’s doing the following:

  • Not providing food, clothing or shelter
  • Leaving children with unsuitable carers who protect from harm or danger
  • Not making sure a child has good health or dental care
  • Not providing a suitable education
  • Not meeting the child’s basic emotional needs – parents may ignore their children when they are distressed or even when they are happy or excited. This is known as emotional neglect.

adult comforting crying teenage girl

Sexual abuse 

Sexual abuse is forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activities. It doesn’t necessarily involve violence and the child may not be aware that what is happening is abuse.

Child sexual abuse can involve contact abuse and/or non-contact abuse. Contact abuse happens when the abuser makes physical contact with the child.  And non-contact abuse involves non-touching a child and can happen on-line or in personal touching of any part of the body whether the child is wearing clothes or not. No one should make you feel uncomfortable or make you do things you don’t want to do.


Child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse. Young people in exploitative situations and relationships receive things such as gifts, money, drugs, alcohol, status or affection in exchange for taking part in sexual activities.

Young people may be tricked into believing they’re in a loving, consensual relationship. They often trust their abuser and don’t understand that they’re being abused. They may depend on their abuser or be too scared to tell anyone what’s happening. They might be invited to parties and given drugs and alcohol before being sexually exploited. They can also be groomed and exploited online.

Some children and young people are trafficked into or within the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Sexual exploitation can also happen to young people in gangs.

teenager with hand on head

Emotional abuse  

Emotional abuse can be shouting, threatening a child, criticising, putting down a child, mocking or making a child do degrading acts. It can also be blaming a child, controlling their life, not letting them have friends or manipulating them. Emotional abuse can also be making a child take part in distressing events such as taking drugs or alcohol or never saying kind encouraging things to a child amongst many other emotional things a child to distressing events or interactions such as drug taking, heavy drinking or domestic abuse.


Domestic abuse 

Domestic abuse is any type of controlling, bullying, threatening or violent behaviour between people who are or were in an intimate relationship. There are many different types of abusive behaviours that can occur within intimate relationships, including emotional, sexual, financial, psychological and physical abuse.

young man looking away from the camera

Bullying and cyberbullying

Bullying is behaviour that hurts someone else. It usually happens over time and can harm a child both physically and emotionally.

Bullying can happen anywhere – at school, at home or online. When bullying happens online it can involve social networks, games and mobile devices. Online bullying can also be known as cyberbullying.

Bullying includes name calling, hand signs, glaring at someone, threatening, intimidating or humiliating someone. It also includes spreading rumours, controlling or manipulating someone and racial, sexual or homophobic bullying. Physical assaults, such as hitting and pushing, making silent, hoax or abusive calls. Cyberbullying includes sending threatening or abusive text messages, creating and sharing embarrassing images or videos, ‘trolling’, setting up hate sites or groups about a particular child, encouraging young people to self-harm, creating fake accounts, hijacking or stealing online identities to embarrass a young person or cause trouble using their name.


Female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It’s also known as female circumcision or cutting. The age at which FGM is carried out varies.