Child abuse is a saddening situation that occurs in the homes of more than 700,000 children per year. Many concerned citizens, teachers and family members report the instances to the proper authorities. Unfortunately, many cases of child abuse go unmentioned for various reasons including shame, fear and ridicule. Many abused children feel as if the abuse is their fault. Although this cannot be farther from the truth, it still prevents many cases from coming to light. Family members, friends, and concerned adults can help these abuse cases become known by noticing the signs of child abuse.
What Is Child Abuse?
Before a person can know when to report an instance of child abuse, he or she will have to understand what the term means. The traditional definition of child abuse is physical violence such as choking, punching and biting a child. Child abuse also involves striking a child with an object that is not intended for punishment. Items that may be used in an instance of child abuse include irons, belts and pipes.
Child abuse goes far beyond simple assault, however. A parent can abuse a child by the way he or she interacts with him or her. For example, a parent who never gives his or her child a hug may be guilty of child abuse. A parent who calls the child names such as worthless, ugly, fat, stupid, gay and such names is committing verbal abuse. Emotional abuse is the type of abuse that is often displayed by neglectful parents. Such parents may ignore their children’s’ hygienic needs. They may never allow the children to go outside and play, and some may even go so far as to lock the children in a room away from everyone else. Verbal abuse and emotional abuse can sometimes hurt longer and cause more damage than physical damage causes.
Signs of Child Abuse
No two children handle child abuse the same way. One child may be introverted and use defense mechanisms as not to get close to anyone. A different child may act out in a specific way. The following are some common signs that a child who is being abused will show. The signs may vary based upon the level of abuse the person endures and the age of that person. Teenagers may act out more than younger children do because of additional factors such as hormonal changes and normal teenage woes.
Cuts and Bruises
The most obvious sign of child abuse is visible marks. Visible marks may include black eyes, swollen lips, closed eyes, lacerations, blue-black bruises on the arms, legs, shoulders or other areas that are away from the buttocks. Abused children may appear to receive “injuries” more than other children in their class do. For example, an abused child may come to school with a broken ankle one month and a broken finger the next month. A common occurrence is for the abused child to deny being “reprimanded” by a parent. The child may call himself or herself a klutz and claim that he or she slip, tripped, or some other unlikely occurrence. Teachers and other interested parties who see this sign of abuse may want to call child protective services to launch an investigation.
A child who is a victim of abuse may start to slip in school grades. The slip may be due to a lack of concentration due to the child’s preoccupation with his or her depressing home life. Many abused children internalize their sadness and it manifests in the form of demotivation. A teacher who has a bright student that suddenly starts failing will want to speak with the student to find the cause of the slip.
Several behavioral changes can occur with child abuse. The first kind of behavioral change that may occur is isolation. Abused children lose trust in everyone who is around therm. Therefore, a victim may intentionally isolate himself or herself from public activities and social events. These children do not allow outsiders to get close to them because they are afraid of suffering additional pain. An abused child may not speak much in public, and his or her peers because of such may inflict ridicule.
The other behavioral changes that an abused child may display are negative ones. A child may become aggressive and start bullying the other children in school. This may be due to the child’s lack of control in his or her life. Peer bullying could also occur because the child truly does not know right from wrong as far as the treatment of other people.
An abused child may act out during class to receive attention from the other students. He or she may challenge everything the instructor says just to cause conflict because it reminds him or her of the conflict at home. Sometimes, an abused child will act as the “class clown.” That child is not having any fun, however.
Abused children sometimes wish that they could go back in time to a time when they first felt safe and secure. For that reason, many of them revert to younger behaviors such as bed-wetting, thumb sucking, and memory or learning difficulties.
Strange Sexual Behaviors
Females who suffer childhood sexual abuse sometimes behave inappropriately in the presence of males. They may make inappropriate comments to a teacher or student. They may appear to know more about sexual intercourse than they should. Caregivers should take note of these behaviors because they may indicate that the child has been introduced to the sexual world before his or her time.
Afraid to Go Home
An abused child will try to avoid going home for as long as possible. He or she may try to stay with a friend or at a school event longer than is allowable. The child may shake and shiver whenever someone mentions going home. Often, younger children who are being abused will make comments to neighborhood families that they wish they had different parents or lived in other places.
Lack of Personal Hygiene
Poor personal hygiene may be one of the signs of child abuse. A neglectful parent will not take the time to do small tasks such as hair brushing, tooth brushing and cleaning. Therefore, the child may come to school with the same clothes on several days in a row. He or she may have dirty fingernails, bad breath or body odor. It is important that any person who notices these signs does not take it out on the child. Many abused children do not know how to properly groom themselves.
Abuse can affect the way a child sleeps. Insomnia can occur because of recurring nightmares or the fear of a parent causing harm in the middle of the night. Depression can trigger the opposite response and cause the child to get too much sleep. He or she may sleep between 10 and 16 hours without appearing to be refreshed. Other conditions such as irritability and sleepwalking may occur because of the disruption of the sleep cycle.
Appetite changes may also occur because of childhood abuse. A depressed child will not want to eat at all. A child may eat too much if he or she uses eating to soothe the psyche. Eating disorders may develop in children who feel bad about themselves because of parental abuse. A teenager who suffers some abuse may have a co-existing disorder such as bulimia or anorexia. Children with anorexia refuse to eat because of an unrealistic desire to be ultra-thin. Children with bulimia do make efforts to eat, but they feel guilty afterward. A person with bulimia will try to force vomiting so that none of the food that went down into the stomach remains there. Bulimia and anorexia can cause a wealth of health problems. Severe cases of such diseases can cause death.
Children who endure abuse often challenge authority because they do not believe in their superiors and caregivers. Such individuals may involve themselves in criminal activities such as shoplifting or vandalism. Other risky activities a victim may participate in are promiscuity and drug use. Abused persons may want to escape the sad feelings they feel by drowning them with alcohol or drugs. Drugs are addicting. Therefore, addictions develop that are sometimes too overwhelming for the abused children to handle. Caretakers should do their best to intervene for any child that seems preoccupied with drugs.
What to Do About Abuse
Anyone who thinks that a child that he or she knows is a victim of child abuse should contact an authority on the matter. A person who wants to step in and save a child’s life can call Child Protective Services about his or her concerns. The person can first try to speak with the child and his or her parents. These situations often get worse when the parents find out that someone else knows about the abuse. Witnesses should be careful to take the proper channels to report child abuse so that the victim experiences no additional pain.