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Child abuse is any behaviour that harms a child (in this case anyone under 18). It can take many forms, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as neglect and exploitation.

Child abuse is against the law. If you or a child you know is in immediate danger call Police on 000.

If you’ve been abused, or know someone that has, it’s essential to let someone know. The effects of abuse on a child are serious and long-lasting. No matter when the abuse has occurred, whether in the past or it’s something that’s ongoing, you can get help and support.

This can help if:

  • you want information about child abuse
  • you know someone who might have been abused
  • you want help dealing with abuse.
Aerial view of skater boy

Types of abuse

Abusive behaviour involves treating someone with cruelty or violence. It often happens regularly or repeatedly. There are four main types of abuse:

  • Physical abuse: Any use of physical force against a child that doesn’t happen by accident and causes injury. Hitting, beating, shaking, punching, biting, burning, scratching, strangling or choking a child are all examples of child abuse.
  • Sexual abuse: Any type of sexual involvement or contact between a child and an adult. Sexual abuse can be voyeurism (spying on or watching a child), sexual acts and incest (sex between family members). For more information on sexual abuse, read about sexual assault.
  • Emotional abuse: A pattern of denying a child love, approval and security, or mistreating a child in the way an adult speaks to them or acts towards them. Bullying, yelling, isolating, criticising, terrorising, ignoring and shaming are all types of emotional abuse.
  • Neglect: Failing to provide a child with the things they need to grow, such as shelter, food, hygiene, supervision, medical attention, education or safety.

Why are children abused?

Child abuse is never okay, irrespective of the reason. Some reasons people give as to why they abuse children include:

  • a desire to feel powerful
  • they themselves experienced abuse as children
  • they don't understand that children have a right to feel safe
  • they think it's okay or appropriate (it's not, ever).

Effects of child abuse

If you’ve been abused as a child, it can lead to:

  • shame/self-blaming
  • anger towards the abuser
  • fear of getting close to and trusting people
  • sadness, confusion and low self-esteem
  • flashbacks, nightmares and reliving the abuse
  • denial that it happened
  • trouble at school with learning new things and socialising with others.

Child abuse and the law

Child abuse is illegal and should be reported. If you’ve been abused talk to someone you trust, who can help you through the process. You don’t have to face your abuser and talk about it in court. You can give evidence on video, without having to sit through the trauma of a court case.

Getting help

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

  • Talk to someone you trust about it. This could be a friend or family member. It could also be a police officer, doctor, counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist, trusted teacher, other family member or health worker.
  • Remember that it's not your fault. If you look at kids who are the same age as you were when it happened, you can understand how defenceless you were at the time.
  • Learn about child abuse and its effects.
  • Talk to other people who have experienced child abuse. Support groups for child abuse victims are a good place to meet other survivors who know how you feel. You don’t have to deal with this on your own.

Support services

If you require assistance, or would like to talk to a trained professional about child abuse and how to report it please call one of these services:

Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800

Lifeline on 13 11 14

Childwise on 1800 99 10 99