The scale of child abuse is hidden by a culture which makes it more difficult for survivors of any age to report incidents of maltreatment or neglect. Many victims have been silenced by fear or shame. And, in a number of cases, children are powerless to stop what is happening to them because they are too young or under-educated to identify what abuse is.
Protecting the rights of children is a social responsibility that we all share. While it is distressing to confront the ways in which childhoods are stolen, opening the conversation could lead to measures which help to prevent abuse from continuing behind closed doors. Raised awareness might also enable children affected by abuse to identify the signs and feel better supported to seek help.
Which actions can be considered abuse or neglect?
It is often debated where the line between discipline and abuse lies. Some of the main indicators have been detailed by The Children’s Society below. Please note that this list does not include all actions that are considered to be abuse.
- Making believable threats to severely harm or cause injury
- Using excessive physical restraint or extended periods of isolation as a means of controlling behaviour
- Allowing a child to witness or participate in illegal substance abuse, including exposure to alcohol or other drugs in the womb
- Abandoning a child or failing to establish a significant relationship with the child
- Being unwilling to meet basic needs for food, shelter, clean water, and a safe environment
- Allowing the child to witness or be the target of domestic violence
- Knowingly allowing the child to be physically, emotionally, or sexually harmed
- Engaging a child in sexual contact or activity of any kind
Child abuse is a crisis that needs much more attention; even the highest statistics significantly underestimate how many children in the UK are exposed to acts of cruelty, violence or neglect.
What are the signs that a child is being abused?
There are several warnings which could indicate that a child is suffering from violence in the home, abuse or neglect, according to the NSPCC. While the list details the most common identifiers, it is important to recognise that not all behavioural changes in children are a sign of abuse.
- Unexplained changes in behaviour or personality
- Poor hygiene, becoming withdrawn or displaying signs of anxiety
- Becoming uncharacteristically aggressive
- Running away or disappearing for extended periods of time
- Always wearing clothes that cover the body
What can be done?
According to the NSPCC, a response of shock or disbelief to the disclosure of abuse could lead the child to shut down. It is important to let them know that they have done the right thing and that you will report the abuse to someone who is able to make it stop. If you wish to share your concerns about the safety of a child, professionals can assess the situation at the NSPCC. Click here to visit the website, or call the helpline on 0808 800 5000.
The emotional impact of abuse is devastating, and the effects can last a lifetime. A child exposed to maltreatment or violence is at much greater risk of developing emotional difficulties and mental health problems as they grow up. It is our responsibility to talk more openly about child abuse and ensure that more measures are put in place to better protect society’s most vulnerable people.
Other reputable helplines:
Childline: 0800 1111
18 and Under: 0800 731 4080
Muslim Youth Helpline (London): 0808 808 2008