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What is abuse?

Child abuse occurs throughout society and affects children of all ages. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. A child may be abused or neglected by parents, cohabitees, step-parents, substitute parents, siblings, relatives, friends, neighbours and strangers. A child may be abused at home, at school, in an institutional or community setting, or via the internet and may be subject to more than one type of abuse.

There are certain parental responses which are known, by research and experience, to suggest a cause for concern. These include:

Physical abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces, illness in a child.

Signs that may suggest physical abuse:

Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve:

Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of ill treatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

Signs that may suggest emotional abuse:

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration e.g. rape or oral sex or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside clothing. They may include non contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of sexual images or in watching sexual activities, or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways or grooming a child in preparation for abuse, including via the internet. Sexual abuse may be committed by men, women and children.

Signs that may suggest sexual abuse: