Child Abuse: Recognizing the Signs

Every year, an estimated 700,000 children are abused in the United States; and every day, five children die because of child abuse. While these statistics are alarming, you may be even more surprised to learn that when children report abuse to an adult in their life, only 58% of those adults take action. As adults, it's our responsibility to help protect one of our most vulnerable populations. Read on to learn some ways to recognize possible signs of child abuse.

Physical Abuse

If a child is a victim of physical abuse, you may see bruising on their skin. If you notice a bruise or welt of any kind or in the pattern of an object (such as a hand or belt), this is a sign of physical abuse and must be reported. You can also assess the location of the child's injury. For example, if they said they fell off a bike, are the marks left behind consistent with that injury?

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is best described as continuing emotional mistreatment of a child. If you see a child being cursed at or demeaned, that is emotional abuse.


If you notice an underweight child, or a child who eats out of trash cans or begs, hoards or steals food, this could be a sign of neglect. Bad hygiene is another sign of neglect: the child will have dirty clothes, or will not be given baths. Medical neglect is also possible. If you know that a child has a medical condition, but they're not being taken for medical care, this is neglect and must be reported.

Sexual Abuse

When in casual contact with children, you will likely not notice physical indicators of sexual abuse. You can look to emotional indicators however, such as signs of stress in the child or in their family. If you see a child imitating sexual acts, this is a possible sign of sexual abuse that must be reported so a professional can assess the situation. Other physical indicators include physical signs of trauma to the genital or anal area, bleeding, bruising, infection, STD's and pregnancy.


If you suspect a child of being a victim of abuse or neglect, make it your business. Call the Child Protective Services (CPS) in your state, or the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, which can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). If you believe a child is in immediate danger, call 911.

If you or your child have been the victim of abuse and need support and guidance, a licensed mental health professional can help. Call my office today, and let's schedule a time to talk.