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Signs of Abuse

Of course, all children get scratches, bruises, and cuts from time to time. That's the nature of childhood - a time that's full of tumbling, climbing, and adventures. That makes it difficult to tell what's normal and what may be a sign of abuse. Unfortunately, there's no one telltale sign that a child is being abused. Bruises, black eyes, and broken bones may be clues, but other signs are less obvious. Children who have been abused may behave differently. They may have nightmares or trouble sleeping. Their school performance may suddenly decline. In addition, they may:

  • have a poor self-image
  • be unable to love or trust others
  • be aggressive or disruptive (become bullies)
  • display intense anger or rage
  • act out in the classroom
  • act out sexually
  • be self-destructive, self-abusive, or suicidal
  • feel sad, passive, withdrawn, or depressed
  • have difficulty forming new relationships
  • use drugs or alcohol
  • avoid going home after school

Signs of Physical Abuse

  • Any injury (bruise, burn, fracture, abdominal or head injury) that cannot be explained

Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Fearful behavior (nightmares, depression, unusual fears, attempts to run away)
  • Abdominal pain, bedwetting, urinary tract infection, genital pain or bleeding, sexually transmitted disease
  • Extreme sexual behavior that seems inappropriate for the child's age

Signs of Emotional Abuse

  • Sudden change in self-confidence
  • Headaches or stomach aches with no medical cause
  • Abnormal fears, increased nightmares
  • Attempts to run away

Signs of Emotional Neglect

  • Failure to gain weight (especially in infants)
  • Desperate for affection
  • Voracious appetite and hording of food
  • Show a fear of certain adults

Children who witness abuse but are not victims themselves may also display some or all of the above signs. It's important to note that these symptoms are all nonspecific, meaning they could result from a number of causes - not just child abuse. Children who are under stress from a variety of sources - including parental separation, divorce, and visitation and custody arrangements - may show similar symptoms.

Those who abuse children may show certain nonspecific signs as well. For example, parents who abuse their children may avoid other parents in the neighborhood, may not participate in school activities, and may be uncomfortable talking about their children's injuries or behavioral problems.

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