What is child abuse?

Child abuse is anything that deliberately hurts a child. There are different kinds of child abuse which have strong and lasting effects. Unfortunately, there is no single reason why people abuse others, but there are things you can do. This includes reporting abuse to the police and involving the legal system, or you can get help to deal with with effects of child abuse.

This could help if you:

  • Want info about child abuse
  • Know someone who might have been abused
  • Want to know about the effects of child abuse
  • Want help dealing with abuse
legs in dark jeans and street shows walking along pavement

What's child abuse

Anything done deliberately to hurt a child or young person physically, sexually, emotionally or psychologically is child abuse. It can be a one-off, or happen over time.

Types of abuse

Physical abuse is any injury to a kid's body that doesn't happen by accident. Hitting, beating, shaking, punching, biting, burning, scratching, strangling or choking a child is child abuse

Sexual abuse is any type of sexual involvement or contact between a child and an adult. It's anything from voyeurism (watching) to sexual acts and incest (sex between family members). For more info, see the sexual assault fact sheet.

Emotional abuse is when a child is denied love, approval and security. Bullying, yelling, put-downs, ignoring and being made to feel shame are all kinds of emotional abuse.

Neglect is when a child isn't given things they need to grow, like shelter, food, hygiene, supervision, medical attention, education or safety.

Why are children abused?

There are a lot of reasons people abuse children. They include: 

  • To feel powerful
  • Because they're repeating patterns they experienced as kids
  • They don't understand that children have a right to feel safe
  • They think it's okay (it’s not)

Effects of child abuse

For people who are abused as kids, child abuse can lead to: 

  • Shame/self-blaming. Abused kids often blame themselves for what happens
  • Anger towards the abuser
  • Fear of getting close to people and trusting them
  • Sadness, confusion and low self-esteem
  • Flashbacks, nightmares and re-living the abuse
  • Denial that it happened
  • Trouble at school learning new things

Child abuse and the law

Children who are abused no longer have to face their abusers and talk about the abuse in court. They can give evidence on video, without having to sit through a damaging court case.

Getting help

There are things you can do to deal with child abuse and its effects. They include: 

  • Talking to someone you trust about it. This could be a friend or family member. It could also be a police officer, doctor, counseller, psychologist, psychiatrist, trusted teacher, other family support or health worker. 
  • Remembering it's not your fault. If you look at kids who were your age when it happened, you can start to understand how defenceless you were.
  • Reading and learning about child abuse and its effects.
  • Talking to other people who went through the same thing. A support group can be a good place to find them.
  • Expressing yourself through writing, music, talking, art or sport.

You can get help with child abuse. Talking to people you trust is good. A doctor, counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist, nurse or other health worker can also help you. You can get more information about support for abuse.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 07 August, 2015
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  • Ben-RO    (57 days ago)

    Hey yyymmmeee, i am so sorry to hear about your experiences at school. That's 100% not okay. Are you away from your bully now? Have you got the right kinds of support for your PTSD? I'd love to know more and see if there's anything we can do to support you :) head over to http://forums.au.reachout.com/ and make a post and I'll be there to chat :)

  • yyymmmeee    (61 days ago)

    I wish i knew this when i was a child. I was emotionally abused intensely at home and at school a bully followed me through 4 years of schooling. I know have complex ptsd and I'm really struggling. Even my teachers where usually best friends with the bully and no one did anything. The school system is hostile and evil. We are forced to go and no one cares for you and teachers just don't care.

  • m-y93    (1060 days ago)

    Thank you j95 for sharing you experience. I also wish that others were as strong as you and are able to stand up for themselves. It is so unfortunate that people have to deal with so much negative experiences in life. Well done on being brave, standing strong and protecting not only yourself but your family.

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