Physical abuse is what most people think of when you mention child abuse. This includes hitting, burning, cutting, and any other form of abuse that causes physical injury. A common form of physical abuse found in infants is termed shaken baby syndrome. This is when an adult caregiver shakes an infant child to stop them from crying, usually without supporting the child’s head or neck. Over time this can cause brain damage, seizures, and eventually death. Physical abuse is often explained away or blamed on the child playing and accidentally injuring themselves. Physical abuse marks the body, but can also cause changes in a child’s behavior. These changes can include being overly quiet or attention-seeking and other types of concerning behavior.
While emotional abuse can occur on its own, it is also almost always present alongside other forms of abuse. This type of abuse can take the form of insults, extreme punishments, forced isolation (and other types of psychological punishments), and gaslighting. Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse meant to prompt the victim into questioning their own perception. This type of abuse, particularly when between an adult caregiver and child, can frequently make the victim more dependent on their abuser as they come to believe that their own memory or perception is unreliable. Emotional abuse is sometimes also referred to as mental/psychological abuse.
Sexual abuse, unfortunately, is also far too common. This is any sexual act between an adult and child. Additionally, it can include things like child pornography, exposing a child to adults engaging in sexual acts, and actions like fondling, kissing, or any inappropriate touching. Sexual abuse can result in behavioral changes. Children who have suffered sexual abuse frequently engage in sex earlier than other children, or display more interest in or knowledge of sexual topics than would generally be expected of someone their age.
Of all types of abuse, neglect can be the most difficult to spot. This is because neglect involves not doing things that you should be doing as a caregiver. This can mean not enrolling a child in school, or not getting them medical and mental health care when it’s required. Punishments such ignoring a child for extended periods of time can be considered both emotional abuse and neglect. Neglected children can also suffer from conditions like lice due to not being taught proper hygiene.
The more informed you are about abuse--the different forms it can take, what to look for etc.--the more able you are to help spread awareness. Spreading awareness is the first step towards finding a way to stop the abuse. Learn the difference between a grumpy or strict caregiver, and when a situation has become abusive. Most importantly: if you see something, speak out