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One in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.


33% of adolescents in America are victim to sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional dating abuse.


Only 1/3 of the teens who were involved in an abusive relationship confided in someone about the violence.

Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

A child who's being abused may feel guilty, ashamed, or confused. He or she may be afraid to tell anyone about the abuse, especially if the abuser is a parent, other relative or family friend. That's why it's vital to watch for red flags, such as:

  • Withdrawal from friends or usual activities

  • Changes in behavior — such as aggression, anger, hostility, or hyperactivity — or changes in school performance

  • Depression, anxiety or unusual fears, or a sudden loss of self-confidence

  • An apparent lack of supervision

  • Frequent absences from school

  • Reluctance to leave school activities, as if he or she doesn't want to go home

  • Attempts at running away

  • Rebellious or defiant behavior

  • Self-harm or attempts at suicide

Specific signs and symptoms depend on the type of abuse and can vary. Keep in mind that warning signs are just that — warning signs. The presence of warning signs doesn't necessarily mean that a child is being abused.

Physical abuse signs and symptoms

  • Unexplained injuries, such as bruises, fractures or burns

  • Injuries that don't match the given explanation

Sexual abuse signs and symptoms

  • Sexual behavior or knowledge that's inappropriate for the child's age

  • Pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection

  • Blood in the child's underwear

  • Statements that he or she was sexually abused

  • Inappropriate sexual contact with other children

Emotional abuse signs and symptoms

  • Delayed or inappropriate emotional development

  • Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem

  • Social withdrawal or a loss of interest or enthusiasm

  • Depression

  • Avoidance of certain situations, such as refusing to go to school or ride the bus

  • Desperately seeks affection

  • A decrease in school performance or loss of interest in school

  • Loss of previously acquired developmental skills

Neglect signs and symptoms

  • Poor growth or weight gain or being overweight

  • Poor hygiene

  • Lack of clothing or supplies to meet physical needs

  • Taking food or money without permission

  • Hiding food for later

  • Poor record of school attendance

  • Lack of appropriate attention for medical, dental, or psychological problems or lack of necessary follow-up care

Parental behavior - Sometimes a parent's demeanor or behavior sends red flags about child abuse. Warning signs include a parent who:

  • Shows little concern for the child

  • Appears unable to recognize physical or emotional distress in the child

  • Blames the child for the problems

  • Consistently belittles or berates the child, and describes the child with negative terms, such as "worthless" or "evil"

  • Expects the child to provide him or her with attention and care and seems jealous of other family members getting attention from the child

  • Uses harsh physical discipline

  • Demands an inappropriate level of physical or academic performance

  • Severely limits the child's contact with others

  • Offers conflicting or unconvincing explanations for a child's injuries or no explanation at all

How Do I Get Help?

If you need help because you're at risk of abusing a child or think someone else has abused or neglected a child, there are organizations that can provide you with information and referrals, such as:

  • Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

  • Prevent Child Abuse America: 1-800-CHILDREN (1-800-244-5373)

If a child tells you he or she is being abused, take the situation seriously. The child's safety is most important. Here's what you can do:

  • Encourage the child to tell you what happened. Remain calm as you assure the child that it's OK to talk about the experience, even if someone has threatened him or her to keep silent. Focus on listening, not investigating. Don't ask leading questions — allow the child to explain what happened and leave detailed questioning to the professionals.

  • Remind the child that he or she isn't responsible for the abuse. The responsibility for child abuse belongs to the abuser. Say "It's not your fault" repeatedly.

  • Offer comfort. You might say, "I'm so sorry you were hurt," "I'm glad that you told me," and "I'll do everything I can to help you." Let the child know you're available to talk or simply listen at any time.

  • Report the abuse. Contact a local child protective agency or the police department. Authorities will investigate the report and, if necessary, take steps to ensure the child's safety.

  • Help the child remain safe. Ensure the child's safety by separating the abuser and the child, and by providing supervision if the child is in the presence of the abuser. Help the child get medical attention if needed.

  • Consider additional support. You might help the child seek counseling or other mental health treatment. Age-appropriate support groups also can be helpful.

  • If the abuse has occurred at school, make sure the principal of the school is aware of the situation, in addition to reporting it to the local or state child protection agency.

Additional Resources

For a more detailed resource on Abuse, click and download this PDF: 

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