Not all wounds are visible. Learn more information on trauma and abuse.

Adults are responsible for the safety of children and should be taking proactive steps to protect children from abuse. It is unrealistic to think that a child should be responsible for fending off any type of abuse or that they should deal with any form of trauma alone.

Learning the facts is the first step to preventing child abuse.

Some girls and boys are particularly vulnerable because of gender, race, ethnic origin or socio-economic status. Higher levels of vulnerability are often associated with children with disabilities, who are orphaned, indigenous, from ethnic minorities and other marginalized groups.

Other risks for children are associated with living and working on the streets, living in institutions and detention, and living in communities where inequality, unemployment, and poverty are highly concentrated. Natural disasters, armed conflict, and displacement may expose children to additional risks.

 Child refugees, internally displaced children, and unaccompanied migrant children are also populations of concern. A vulnerability is also associated with age; younger children are at greater risk of certain types of violence and the risks differ as they get older.

Types of Abuse

Physical abuse and neglect are defined by CAPTA as "Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation"; or "An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."

Sexual abuse is defined by CAPTA as “the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.”

Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove, and therefore, child protective services may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm or 3 The CAPTA amendments of 1996 (42 U.S.C.A. § 5106i) added new provisions specifying that nothing in the act be construed as establishing a Federal requirement that a parent or legal guardian provide any medical service or treatment that is against the religious beliefs of the parent or legal guardian. mental injury to the child. Emotional abuse is almost always present when other types of maltreatment are identified.

Physical abuse is nonaccidental physical injury (ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures or death) as a result:

  • of punching
  • beating
  • kicking
  • biting
  • shaking
  • throwing
  • stabbing
  • choking
  • hitting (with a hand, stick, strap, or another object)
  • burning or otherwise harming a child
  • that is inflicted by a parent
  • caregiver or another person who has responsibility for the child.

Neglect is the failure of a parent, guardian, or another caregiver to provide for a child’s basic needs. Neglect may be:

  • Physical (e.g., failure to provide necessary food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision)
  • Medical (e.g., failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment)2
  • 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, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs)

Sexual abuse includes activities by a parent or caregiver such as:

  • fondling a child’s genitals
  • penetration
  • incest
  • rape
  • sodomy
  • indecent exposure
  • exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials.

Emotional abuse (or psychological abuse) is a pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include:

  • constant criticism
  • threats
  • rejection
  • withholding love
  • withholding support
  • withholding guidance