Signs of Child Abuse

Gwendolyn Floyd
May 21, 2009

This is a tough post to write, but statistically you will at some point know of a child who needs to be protected from abuse. It is your legal obligation to report any suspected abuse to the proper authorities. If you think a child you know is being abused call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. This helpline can answer questions and help you to figure out what you should do.

Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, or neglectful in nature and there are signs. Warning signs do not necessarily mean that abuse is happening, but especially where more than one sign is observed in a child there is cause for concern. Warning signs to look for in an abused child are:

  • unexplained bruises especially on the face, lower back, thighs or upper arms

  • unexplained bruises on an infant

  • different coloured bruises, indicating they're at different stages of healing

  • unexplained fractures

  • constant complaints such as sore throats or stomach aches that have no medical explanation

  • lack of proper hygiene

  • clothing inappropriate to weather conditions

  • torn, stained or bloody underwear

  • irritation, bruising, bleeding, pain or itching near genitals or anus

  • bruises on breasts, buttocks or thighs

  • sudden onset of nightmares, bed-wetting, and/or fear of the dark

  • sudden change in attitude toward someone

  • expressing sexual knowledge not usual for their age in their language, behavior or play

  • becoming anxious and fearful after being outgoing and friendly

A child may also come to you and disclose abuse. If this happens take the following steps:

  • stay calm

  • listen to them

  • let them know you believe them

  • reassure them

  • tell them you're sorry it happened and let them know it's not their fault

  • don't promise to keep it a secret

  • and don't say everything will be fine now. It may take a lot of time before everything is fine again

If you have any questions about what child abuse is and how to report it, call 1-800-4-A-CHILD, the National Child Abuse Hotline for both the US and Canada.  You can also take a look at the Ministry of Children and Family Development's website for further information.


Gwendolyn Floyd is the Vancouver City Editor for The Savvy Source. You can read more of her work every day at Being Savvy: Vancouver.

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