Recognizing Child Abuse

The first step in helping abused children is learning to recognize signs of child abuse. Although child abuse is divided into four types–physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional maltreatment–the types are more typically found in combination than alone. Indicators of child abuse and neglect may include signs of:


  • Child lacks adequate medical or dental care
  • Often sleepy, hungry or malnourished
  • Often dirty, inadequately dressed for the weather
  • Depressed, withdrawn, apathetic, exhibits antisocial or destructive behavior, shows fearfulness, suffers from substance abuse

Physical Abuse

  • Bruises, burns, bite marks, abrasions, lacerations, head injuries, internal injuries, fractures
  • Child’s injury is unusual for the age group
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Exhibits drastic behavioral changes
  • Excessively passive, compliant, withdrawn, fearful
  • Visibly depressed or suicidal
  • Excessively aggressive, violent or destructive; cruel to animals

Sexual Abuse

  • Physical trauma or irritation to the anal or genital area
  • Eating disturbances (overeating or underreacting)
  • Overly compulsive behavior
  • Regressive behavior
  • Drastic behavioral changes

Emotional Abuse

  • Extremely withdrawn, depressed, or apathetic
  • Clingy and forms indiscriminate attachments
  • Exhibits exaggerated fearfulness or aggression