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Identifying child abuse

Child abuse can occur in a range of situations and for a variety of reasons. The damage from child abuse is long lasting affects many adults later in life and can spiral to have devastating effects on their family.

Emotional Abuse

This is the most common form of child abuse, targeting a child’s psychological and social life.

It is common for parents to be emotionally abusive when they are trying to fulfil their own needs and goals as well as their children’s. Emotional abuse can be shouting, intimidation, manipulation and blackmail. However, it is not always the parents who emotionally abuse children. It is common for teachers to assert power over children.

Signs of a child suffering emotional abuse include:

  • Unhappy, frightened and distressed
  • Aggressive and anti-social behaviour
  • Difficulties with academic achievement and attendance
  • No close friendships
  • Physical neglect
  • Incontinence and mysterious pain

Child Neglect

This is one of the most common complaints to Child Protective Services. Neglect occurs when a parent or caregiver fails to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care, love, support, supervision, moral guidance and attendance at school.

Often neglect will correlate with socio-economic status as the family lacks the money to provide adequately for the child.

Physical Abuse

The physical abuse of women and children is an epidemic in Australia. Physical abuse includes, kicking, biting, punching, beating, burning, scalding, hair pulling, slapping or threatening of physical harm.

Often physical abusers have a history involving emotional impairments, substance abuse and a lack of social support.

Signs of a child suffering physical abuse include:

  • Reduced academic achievement
  • Difficulty with physical development and coordination
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Aggression and anger management
  • Depression, anxiety and low self-esteem

Family Violence

Witnessing family violence can be damaging to children. This can include witnessing parents fighting, the father beating the mother or a parent inflicting violence on the child.

Signs of a child experiencing family violence include:

  • Behavioural and emotional difficulties
  • Learning difficulties
  • Long-term development problems
  • Aggressive language and behaviour
  • Restlessness, anxiety and depression

Sexual Abuse

This is where an adult engages with a minor in a sexual act or exposes them to inappropriate sexual behaviour or material.

Signs that a child is being sexually abused include:

  • Withdrawn, unhappy and suicidal behaviour
  • Self-harm
  • Aggressive and violent behaviour
  • Bedwetting, sleep problems and nightmares
  • Eating problems
  • Mood swings
  • Detachment
  • Pains
  • Sexual behaviour, language and knowledge too advanced for their age
If you have encountered a child that you believe has suffered or is suffering child abuse please call Bravehearts on 1800 272 831 for advice. If you believe they are in immediate risk, dial 000 for help.


Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: May 15, 2016.

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