About Abuse 

You can help prevent child abuse and neglect.

Child abuse cuts across all boundaries of race, education levels, and income brackets.

There are more than 20,000 reports of child abuse in Northern Virginia every year, and 3.5 million reports annually in the United States.

What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is any mistreatment of a minor that results in harm or injury. It usually happens at home, involving a person the child knows well, like a parent, relative, babysitter, or friend.​

While child abuse can be a one-time occurrence, more often it is a pattern of behavior involving regular attacks or acts of abuse. The longer child abuse goes on, the more serious the consequences can be.

 

Four types of abuse:

Neglect: Failure to provide for a child’s basic needs (physical, educational, and/or emotional).

Physical Abuse: Injury as a result of hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, or otherwise harming a child.

Sexual Abuse: Indecent exposure, fondling, rape, or commercial exploitation through prostitution or the production or viewing of pornographic material.  This includes both contact and non-contact offenses.

Emotional Abuse: Any pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth, including constant criticism, threats, and rejection or isolation.

 

Over 90% of abuse is by someone known to the child.

Men, women and other children can cause harm and both boys and girls may experience abuse.  Some groups of children are significantly more likely to experience childhood abuse.  These vulnerabilities require adults to be aware of greater risks and factors that mitigate them.  Groups more vulnerable to abuse include children with visible and invisible disabilities, children with communication challenges, and children presenting or identifying as LGBTQ.

Children react differently to abuse.

The signs below indicate a need to pay close attention and take action, but don’t mean a child is being abused. There may be no signs at all. Keep in mind that children are often afraid or ashamed to tell anyone about their experiences. Many do not understand what is happening and that it is wrong and not their fault.

General Signs and Indicators

  • Withdrawal from friends, family, normal activities
  • Changes in behavior, such as aggression, withdrawal, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, or nightmares
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Changes in school attendance or performance including attention deficits
  • Fear of being with a particular person or in a particular place (such as not wanting to be online)
  • Self-harming behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol, cutting, or trying to run away
  • Returning to earlier behaviors, such as bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, fear of strangers, and baby talk
  • Unexplained injuries or physical issues, headaches, stomach pain, discomfort walking or sitting, etc.

Signs an Adult May be Abusive

  • Shows little concern for the child
  • Seems unable to recognize physical or emotional distress/needs in the child
  • Has unrealistic expectations of the child
  • Blames the child for problems
  • Berates or humiliates the child
  • Talks about or uses harsh discipline
  • Is unable/unwilling to meet the child’s basic needs
  • Expects the child to provide the caregiver with attention and care and seems jealous of others
  • Severely limits the child’s contact with others
  • Consistently breaks rules or violates personal boundaries in ways that seem inappropriate or excessive
  • Develops personal relationship with the child beyond their professional role
  • Does favors for parents especially those enabling them to be alone with the child

What to look for…

Often people get a ‘sense’ that something isn’t right with a child. The child may hint or partially disclose. If asked, the child may tell you how an injury happened, or why they are scared, sad or angry.  

Depending upon the type of abuse there may or may not be physical evidence such as bruises or injuries in the shape of an object, or on the soft parts of the body where falls generally don’t cause injuries, such as the cheeks, ears, upper thighs, or buttocks. Injuries may not match the explanation provided.

A child who is neglected may be hungry, unclean, attention seeking, or otherwise ‘stick out’.  Their caregivers may have addiction problems. Poverty or financial hardship is not abuse.  

An emotionally abused child may have low self-esteem, repeat insults about themselves, act out aggressively or be withdrawn, or be emotionally unattached to their caregiver. A child witnessing violence in the home between adults or others is experiencing emotional abuse. 

Children subjected to sexual abuse may or may not have physical signs such as pregnancy, painful urination, discomfort sitting or walking, sexual knowledge beyond their age or developmental level, and exhibit general signs listed above including self-harm.

Online Abuse

Signs of online abuse that may or may not be present include stress (secrecy or urgency) around computer use, late night use, disinterest in previous hobbies, pulling away from family and friends, extra cash or devices. The digital sharing of sexual images under pressure or through trickery is online sexual abuse.  The signs listed above such as self-harm, physical complaints, and sleep problems may also be present.  Adults should never share or view sexual images of children.  This is illegal, retraumatizes the victim, and can traumatize adults.

Grooming

The preparation of a child for sexual abuse is called grooming.  This process increases access to a child and reduces the likelihood of discovery.  This is accomplished by building trust, normalizing touch, introducing sexual experiences or topics, and manipulating or controlling the child, adults, and the environment. The overall aim is to prevent discovery of the abuse by hiding or preventing the child from telling or being believed.  This process may happen in person or online, over an extended period of time or very quickly.  Grooming with an intention to establish a sexual relationship is a form of sexual abuse.  An adult asking a child for sexual images or viewing sexual images of children is committing sexual abuse.

A child experiencing grooming or sexual abuse may or may not be compliant or protect the offender.  They may believe they are to blame, or they may not know what is happening is abuse.  It is always appropriate to report suspicions of sexual abuse and to believe the child if they disclose sexual abuse.

It is the responsibility of all adults to protect children.

If you suspect abuse, report it to the appropriate authority.

Don’t ask yourself what if I’m wrong. Ask, what if I’m right? Children cannot consent to abuse.

If you are a mandated reporter because you work with children, ensure you know the Virginia laws that require you to report to a supervisor or local child welfare authority in no more than 24 hours.

If a child tells you someone has hurt them:

  • Believe them.  This positively impacts healing. False disclosures from children are rare.
  • Listen calmly, without strong emotions.
  • Avoid interruptions and excessive questions.
  • Thank the child for telling you and reassure them that they did the right thing and they are not to blame.
  • Avoid promising the child you will not tell anyone or that they will be safe as this may be untrue.
  • Do not insult or confront the adult who harmed them. Report to police if a crime has been committed, or to local authorities or a supervisor. Professionals should make notes about what was said using the child’s words.
  • Do not share or view sexual images of children.

Ask questions or report an adult when they:

  • Cause harm to a child, or act in a way that could result in harm
  • Break rules of supervision in professional roles
  • Threaten, bribe, or instruct a child or children to keep secrets from other adults
  • Provide a child with illicit experiences (such as drugs, alcohol or access to adult materials, such as pornography)
  • Talk about sex in age inappropirate or role inappropriate ways
  • Request or view sexual images of children
  • Touch a child in a way that harms them or is inappropriate

Report Suspected Abuse

You may be the adult a child is counting on for help. If you are concerned or something seems “off,” please report your suspicion of abuse.  Mandated reporters must make a report within 24 hours to either a supervisor or local authorities.

Call the Virginia hotline at 1-800-552-7096 or your local CPS department.

Report cases of online abuse or exploitation, including inappropriate adult content aimed at children to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) at report.cybertip.org.

You can help prevent child abuse and neglect.

Child abuse cuts across all boundaries of race, education levels, and income brackets.

There are more than 20,000 reports of child abuse in Northern Virginia every year, and 3.5 million reports annually in the United States.

What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is any mistreatment of a minor that results in harm or injury. It usually happens at home, involving a person the child knows well, like a parent, relative, babysitter, or friend.​

While child abuse can be a one-time occurrence, more often it is a pattern of behavior involving regular attacks or acts of abuse. The longer child abuse goes on, the more serious the consequences can be.

 

Four types of abuse:

Neglect: Failure to provide for a child’s basic needs (physical, educational, and/or emotional).

Physical Abuse: Injury as a result of hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, or otherwise harming a child.

Sexual Abuse: Indecent exposure, fondling, rape, or commercial exploitation through prostitution or the production or viewing of pornographic material.  This includes both contact and non-contact offenses.

Emotional Abuse: Any pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth, including constant criticism, threats, and rejection or isolation.

 

Over 90% of abuse is by someone known to the child.

Men, women and other children can cause harm and both boys and girls may experience abuse.  Some groups of children are significantly more likely to experience childhood abuse.  These vulnerabilities require adults to be aware of greater risks and factors that mitigate them.  Groups more vulnerable to abuse include children with visible and invisible disabilities, children with communication challenges, and children presenting or identifying as LGBTQ.

Children react differently to abuse.

The signs below indicate a need to pay close attention and take action, but don’t mean a child is being abused. There may be no signs at all. Keep in mind that children are often afraid or ashamed to tell anyone about their experiences. Many do not understand what is happening and that it is wrong and not their fault.

General Signs and Indicators

  • Withdrawal from friends, family, normal activities
  • Changes in behavior, such as aggression, withdrawal, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, or nightmares
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Changes in school attendance or performance including attention deficits
  • Fear of being with a particular person or in a particular place (such as not wanting to be online)
  • Self-harming behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol, cutting, or trying to run away
  • Returning to earlier behaviors, such as bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, fear of strangers, and baby talk
  • Unexplained injuries or physical issues, headaches, stomach pain, discomfort walking or sitting, etc.

Signs an Adult May be Abusive

  • Shows little concern for the child
  • Seems unable to recognize physical or emotional distress/needs in the child
  • Has unrealistic expectations of the child
  • Blames the child for problems
  • Berates or humiliates the child
  • Talks about or uses harsh discipline
  • Is unable/unwilling to meet the child’s basic needs
  • Expects the child to provide the caregiver with attention and care and seems jealous of others
  • Severely limits the child’s contact with others
  • Consistently breaks rules or violates personal boundaries in ways that seem inappropriate or excessive
  • Develops personal relationship with the child beyond their professional role
  • Does favors for parents especially those enabling them to be alone with the child

What to look for…

Often people get a ‘sense’ that something isn’t right with a child. The child may hint or partially disclose. If asked, the child may tell you how an injury happened, or why they are scared, sad or angry.  

Depending upon the type of abuse there may or may not be physical evidence such as bruises or injuries in the shape of an object, or on the soft parts of the body where falls generally don’t cause injuries, such as the cheeks, ears, upper thighs, or buttocks. Injuries may not match the explanation provided.

A child who is neglected may be hungry, unclean, attention seeking, or otherwise ‘stick out’.  Their caregivers may have addiction problems. Poverty or financial hardship is not abuse.  

An emotionally abused child may have low self-esteem, repeat insults about themselves, act out aggressively or be withdrawn, or be emotionally unattached to their caregiver. A child witnessing violence in the home between adults or others is experiencing emotional abuse. 

Children subjected to sexual abuse may or may not have physical signs such as pregnancy, painful urination, discomfort sitting or walking, sexual knowledge beyond their age or developmental level, and exhibit general signs listed above including self-harm.

Online Abuse

Signs of online abuse that may or may not be present include stress (secrecy or urgency) around computer use, late night use, disinterest in previous hobbies, pulling away from family and friends, extra cash or devices. The digital sharing of sexual images under pressure or through trickery is online sexual abuse.  The signs listed above such as self-harm, physical complaints, and sleep problems may also be present.  Adults should never share or view sexual images of children.  This is illegal, retraumatizes the victim, and can traumatize adults.

Grooming

The preparation of a child for sexual abuse is called grooming.  This process increases access to a child and reduces the likelihood of discovery.  This is accomplished by building trust, normalizing touch, introducing sexual experiences or topics, and manipulating or controlling the child, adults, and the environment. The overall aim is to prevent discovery of the abuse by hiding or preventing the child from telling or being believed.  This process may happen in person or online, over an extended period of time or very quickly.  Grooming with an intention to establish a sexual relationship is a form of sexual abuse.  An adult asking a child for sexual images or viewing sexual images of children is committing sexual abuse.

A child experiencing grooming or sexual abuse may or may not be compliant or protect the offender.  They may believe they are to blame, or they may not know what is happening is abuse.  It is always appropriate to report suspicions of sexual abuse and to believe the child if they disclose sexual abuse.

It is the responsibility of all adults to protect children.

If you suspect abuse, report it to the appropriate authority.

Don’t ask yourself what if I’m wrong. Ask, what if I’m right? Children cannot consent to abuse.

If you are a mandated reporter because you work with children, ensure you know the Virginia laws that require you to report to a supervisor or local child welfare authority in no more than 24 hours.

If a child tells you someone has hurt them:

  • Believe them.  This positively impacts healing. False disclosures from children are rare.
  • Listen calmly, without strong emotions.
  • Avoid interruptions and excessive questions.
  • Thank the child for telling you and reassure them that they did the right thing and they are not to blame.
  • Avoid promising the child you will not tell anyone or that they will be safe as this may be untrue.
  • Do not insult or confront the adult who harmed them. Report to police if a crime has been committed, or to local authorities or a supervisor. Professionals should make notes about what was said using the child’s words.
  • Do not share or view sexual images of children.

Ask questions or report an adult when they:

  • Cause harm to a child, or act in a way that could result in harm
  • Break rules of supervision in professional roles
  • Threaten, bribe, or instruct a child or children to keep secrets from other adults
  • Provide a child with illicit experiences (such as drugs, alcohol or access to adult materials, such as pornography)
  • Talk about sex in age inappropirate or role inappropriate ways
  • Request or view sexual images of children
  • Touch a child in a way that harms them or is inappropriate

Report Suspected Abuse

You may be the adult a child is counting on for help. If you are concerned or something seems “off,” please report your suspicion of abuse.  Mandated reporters must make a report within 24 hours to either a supervisor or local authorities.

Call the Virginia hotline at 1-800-552-7096 or your local CPS department.

Report cases of online abuse or exploitation, including inappropriate adult content aimed at children to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) at report.cybertip.org.

Recovering from abuse

Childhood abuse is not rare. Children who are abused who lack strong community or interpersonal support may grow up to be adults with serious academic, financial, relationship, and health impacts. 

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as abuse have immediate, short-term, and long-term consequences. They can cause Post Traumatic Stress (PTS/PTSD), depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders, addiction/substance abuse, and a variety of physical and mental health impacts.

The total lifetime estimated financial costs associated with just one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment is approximately $124 billion. The greater cost is in wellbeing, academic and workplace success, physical and mental health, and family and interpersonal relationships.  If you experienced childhood abuse it was not your fault.  

Childhood abuse is preventable and children can recover. Specialized mental health counseling or therapy may be recommended.