Types of Abuse, Signs & Symptoms


Focusing on protective factors helps children, youth, and families build resilience and contributes to positive outcomes. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. One thing we can all do to help children thrive before they reach a crisis is to understand the signs and symptoms of abuse. 

HAND grantee, Dorchester Children's Advocacy Center, provides a coordinated response to children and their families when they have experienced a traumatic event. Here are a few common signs associated with abuse and neglect. 


Definition: A physical injury as a result of such as being hit, kicked, choked, thrown, pushed, or whipped by a parent or guardian. This may result in marks, cuts, burns, blisters, scratches, broken bones, sprains, dislocated joints, lifelong injury or death.

Signs & Symptoms: Any injury to a child who is not yet crawling; visible injuries such as: human bite marks, lacerations or abrasions, burns in the shape of an iron, grill or cigarette, immersion burns and any other significant unexplained marks or bruises; injuries at different stages of healing; frequent unexplained absences from school. Children may be aggressive, withdrawn, depressed, anxious, or demonstrate violent themes in art or fantasy.


Definition: Sexual abuse is the fondling of genitalia, exposure to sexually explicit material, penetration, incest, rape, indecent exposure and exploitation through prostitution or creating child pornography by a caregiver.

Signs & Symptoms: Difficulty walking or sitting; torn, stained, or bloody underclothing; pain, swelling, or itching in genital and/or anal area; pain during urination; bruises, bleeding or lacerations in genital and anal area; venereal disease; withdrawn; exhibiting sexual behaviors not usual for the child’s particular stage of human development.

CHILD NEGLECT (physical, medical, educational)

Definition: Neglect is when a parent or guardian does not provide for the basic needs of a child, though capable of doing so. Neglect can include not meeting physical, medical, educational or emotional needs.

Signs & Symptoms: Underweight, poor growth pattern, and failure to thrive; inappropriate dress, consistent hunger, and poor hygiene; consistent lack of supervision; unattended physical and medical problems and needs; lack of proper medical or mental health services; significantly high absences from school; and abandonment.


Definition: Emotional or psychological abuse is a repeated behavior by an adult. It may come in the form of threats, rejection, dehumanizing language, ongoing criticism, shaming or humiliating, and isolation.

Signs & Symptoms: Speech disorders; lags in physical development or failure to thrive; hyperactive and/or disruptive behavior; isolation; withdrawn; significantly more attention given to another sibling; delays in development; phobias; sleep disorders; anxiety, destructive or anti-social behaviors; suicidal thoughts or behaviors.


Definition: Domestic violence itself is not a form of child abuse, but exposure to domestic violence, and/or witnessing the aftermath of domestic violence can have an effect on children that is similar to the effects of children who experience physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Episodes of domestic violence may become more frequent and more severe over time and can lead to child abuse if it is not already happening.

Signs & Symptoms: Displays other signs of abuse, withdrawn, anxiety, sleeplessness, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, increased agitation, increased anxiety about being separated from a parent, intense worry about their safety or the safety of a parent.

All children's experiences and reactions are unique; therefore, some children will show no signs or may exhibit other signs not listed. When in doubt, report suspicions of abuse and neglect to Law Enforcement.