Prevention is our goal, but if necessary, the first step in helping abused or neglected children is learning to recognize the signs. The presence of a single sign does not prove child abuse is occurring in a family, but a closer look at the situation may be warranted when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination. For more information about detection and the signs of abuse, please visit www.childwelfare.gov.
Get Immediate Help
If you suspect child abuse, contact your local Child Advocacy Center or call the National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4ACHILD
Children’s Advocacy Centers bring together professionals and agencies in a multidisciplinary team. They emphasize the coordination of investigation and intervention services to create a child-focused approach to child abuse cases.
The National Child Abuse Hotline is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. Serving the United States, its territories, and Canada, the Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with professional crisis counselors who, through interpreters, can provide assistance in 140 languages. The Hotline offers crisis intervention, information, literature, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are anonymous and confidential.
Recognizing & Reporting Abuse
Child sexual abuse is rarely committed in public and abusers are seldom caught in the act. Physical abuse leaves its mark; bruises, cuts, and burns. While detection of child sexual abuse can be difficult, there are often visible signs.
A child in distress due to sexual abuse will exhibit signs that are often vague, elusive, and difficult to spot. However, informed adults, aware of what to look for, can prevent and interrupt abuse. Children who have NOT been sexually abused may, at one time or another, display any of these behaviors. But when children exhibit these signs regularly or in combination, it is important that you consider the possibility of sexual abuse and seek professional guidance.
- Nightmares or other sleeping disturbances19
- Excessive crying, especially in young children19
- Fear of particular people or places19
- Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities20
- Bed wetting, specifically in older children20
- Suicidal gestures19
- Experiences a sudden change in appetite19
- Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior20
- Depression or withdrawal19
- Anxiety or nervousness21
- Emotional detachment21
- Feelings of shame or guilt21
Physical Warning Signs
- Has difficulty walking or sitting20
- Signs of trauma to genitals or mouth22
- Bleeding at genitals or anus22
- Pain or discomfort at the genitals, anus or mouth22
Simple as it seems, reporting is often a difficult thing to do. No one wants to report abuse without proof. This is especially true if you know and trust the individual you suspect is sexually abusing a child. Not reporting could delay or deny the help that a child so desperately needs.
Law enforcement strives to protect all children, but it is impossible for them to cover every area of a community. If you suspect that a child needs help, take the next step and report, you will be providing a crucial link between caring professionals and a hurt child.
Before You Report
- Note times and dates of any abuse you may see or hear
- If a child has revealed abuse to you, take time afterward to write down what they said
- Concentrate on getting the facts straight
- Remember any details you can
- Though the issue of child abuse can be emotional, try to remain calm
What to Expect
- Always be open and honest with police
- The investigator’s intent is to determine if further investigation is warranted
- Investigators will ask questions concerning the nature of the abuse
- They will also ask what information you have that has led you to suspect abuse
- You will be treated with respect and your concerns will be taken seriously
- Most states have laws in place to protect those who report in good faith, or without ulterior motive23
- All states require members of certain professions to report reasonable suspicion of abuse23
- 18 states require all persons to report suspected abuse24
- Under the Constitution anyone accused of a crime is provided the right to know their accuser and if called to testify, your identity will be revealed in open court25
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