Child abuse includes neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. Girls are more likely to be sexually abused than boys. Child abuse occurs in all racial, ethnic, educational, and socioeconomic groups. The abuser is usually someone who provides care for the child—such as a biological par- ent, adoptive parent, foster parent, grandparent, sibling, other relative, or a friend or neighbor.
Child abuse can have serious, long-term consequences for a child. Children who are abused or who live in violent homes are more likely to see violence as an effective solution to problems. The majority of child abusers were abused or neglected when they were children.
Signs of possible child abuse include the following:
• repeated injuries with unconvincing explanations of the cause
• injuries that leave scars that resemble cigarette burns or marks from an elec- trical cord, especially in areas of the body that are very sensitive, such as the genitals, nipples, and face
• behavior problems—behavior that is either passive and withdrawn, or hyper- active and aggressive
• reluctance to respond or fear when asked about life at home
• self-destructive, delinquent, or reckless behaviors such as substance abuse, crime, or running away from home
• low self-esteem
• learning problems and lack of motivation in school
• neglected appearance
• no desire to make friends or invite other children home
• suicide attempts
If you think that a child you know may be a victim of abuse, do not directly confront the suspected abuser. Contact a local service agency such as a child protective service agency, welfare department or social service agency, public health department, or the police—they can assist the child and the family.
If you are abusing your child or think you may be at risk for doing so, talk to your doctor or a clergy member, or join a support group of people with similar concerns. Many communities have intervention and prevention programs to help you learn positive coping and parenting skills.
Signs of possible sexual abuse include the following:
• bruising, redness, swelling, discharge, or other signs of injury in the rectal or genital area
• regressive behavior such as bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, or excessive clinging
• frequent nightmares or fearfulness
• an increase in hostile or aggressive behavior
• withdrawal from friends, family, or school activities
• provocative, promiscuous, or sexually precocious behavior
Teach your children the difference between good touching and bad touching. A friendly hug or a pat on the back are examples of good touching. Feeling pri- vate parts (areas covered by a bathing suit) and touching (including rubbing or kissing) anywhere on their body that makes them feel uncomfortable are exam- ples of bad touching. Make sure that your children know that their body is pri- vate and that no one may touch them without their permission.
If you suspect that your child may have been sexually abused, get help imme- diately. Call your pediatrician or contact the police, a social worker, or a school guidance counselor. Do not hesitate to contact local authorities. Most sex offend- ers have abused more than one child. Stopping a sex offender will prevent the sexual abuse of other children.