April is child abuse prevention month, and there is a nationwide push to educate people on what child abuse is, how to spot the signs, and what you can do to stop it.
Common Signs of Child Abuse
When most people think of the signs of child abuse, they picture a timid child covered in bruises, or sporting a fresh black eye. While these outward signs are definite indicators of abuse, there are multiple other signs that may not be nearly as obvious.
Neglect and Malnourishment
One sign that a child is being abused, is neglected hygiene and grooming. The child may appear disheveled, dirty or improperly dressed. His hair may be matted or dirty or he may be wearing dirty clothes. Some other signs include a child who is perpetually hungry or who appears severely underweight.
An emotionally abused child may appear withdrawn, sullen or fearful. They may overreact to a minor situation, bursting into tears for not being able to complete a task. They may appear weak or listless from lack of sleep. Emotionally abused children may be clingy and have a desperate need to form a strong attachment to teachers, tutors and other kinds of caregivers.
A physically abused child may not always appear with bruises. Some abusive parents have mastered the art of abusing the child without leaving physical marks. Physically abused children may be frequently absent from school or tutoring while their bruises heal. They may react with horror if you suggest talking to their parents about their behavior or school work. They may seem fearful when talking about their parents or guardians.
A pattern of unexplained injuries could also suggest that the child is being abused. If you notice a pattern of injury, and the explanations don’t seem plausible, it could indicate abuse.
Sexual abuse may be one of the hardest types of abuse to spot, because there are usually no outward signs. A few indicators that a child is being sexually abused: the child may have advanced knowledge about sex for their age, or might act out sexually toward other students at school. They also may avoid going to the bathroom or be fearful about changing clothes in front of others.
In some cases, the child may come right out and tell you that they are being abused at home. It’s important to always take these revelations seriously, and hear the child out.
What To Do When You Suspect Abuse
If you suspect that a child is being abused, contact Child Protective Services as soon as possible. You can find the phone number of your local CPS office here.
If you are not comfortable reporting suspected abuse to a child abuse agency, there are other people, called “mandated reporters” who are required to act if there is a suspicion of abuse. These people include the child’s teacher or any school staff member. Nurses, doctors and other caregivers are also considered mandated reporters, and will contact the authorities on behalf of the abused child.
Understanding the signs and symptoms of child abuse is the first step in helping to stop the epidemic.