What is Child Abuse and Neglect?

Alarming statistics show us that 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused by age 18. 90% of abused children know their abuser. The GOOD news is that there are 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse! ECHO works to prevent these statistics. ( Darkness to Light )

Child abuse is defined within federal and state laws. The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) set the standards for defining child maltreatment. CAPTA defines child maltreatment or child abuse and neglect as:

Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.

Sexual abuse is defined as:

the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.


In Kentucky, the Unified Juvenile Code, KRS 600-645 defines child abuse in detail. Read the definitions in Kentucky: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/KRS/600-00/020.PDF.  Go here for full Unified Juvenile Code. http://www.lrc.ky.gov/krs/titles.htm. (hyperlink)

In Indiana, the Juvenile Law: Children In Need Of Services (CHINS) defines child abuse in detail. Read the definitions in Indiana: http://www.ai.org/legislative/ic/code/title31/ar34/ch1.html

Common Definitions

There are four major types of child maltreatment:
physical abuse
sexual abuse
emotional abuse

Neglect is failure to provide for a child’s basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) or supervision.

Physical abuse is physical injury as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting, burning or otherwise harming a child.  Such injury is considered abuse regardless of whether or not the caretaker intended to hurt the child.

Sexual abuse includes activities by a parent or caretaker, such as fondling a child’s genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure and commercial exploitation through prostitution or the exposure to or production of pornographic materials.

Emotional abuse is any pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self -worth.  This may include constant criticism, threats or rejection as well as withholding love, support and guidance.

Signs of Abuse


Consider the possibility of neglect when the child:

  • Is frequently absent from school
  • Begs or steals food or money
  • Lacks needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or glasses
  • Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor
  • Lacks sufficient clothing for the weather
  • Abuses alcohol or other drugs
  • States that there is no one at home to provide care

Consider the possibility of neglect when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Appears to be indifferent to the child
  • Seems apathetic or depressed
  • Behaves irrationally or in a bizarre manner
  • Is abusing alcohol or other drugs


Consider the possibility of physical abuse when the child:

  • Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes
  • Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school
  • Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home
  • Shrinks at the approach of adults
  • Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver

Consider the possibility of physical abuse when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Offers conflicting, unconvincing, or no explanation for the child’s injury
  • Describes the child as “evil,” or in some other very negative way
  • Uses harsh physical discipline with the child
  • Has a history of abuse as a child


Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the child:

  • Has difficulty walking or sitting
  • Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
  • Reports nightmares or bedwetting
  • Experiences a sudden change in appetite
  • Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
  • Becomes pregnant or contracts a venereal disease, particularly if under age 14
  • Runs away
  • Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver

Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the parent or other adult caregiver

  • Is unduly protective of the child or severely limits the child’s contact with other children, especially of the opposite sex
  • Is secretive and isolated
  • Is jealous or controlling with family members


Consider the possibility of emotional maltreatment when the child:

  • Shows extremes in behavior, such as overly compliant or demanding behavior, extreme passivity, or aggression
  • Is either inappropriately adult (parenting other children, for example) or inappropriately infantile (frequently rocking or head-banging, for example)
  • Is delayed in physical or emotional development
  • Has attempted suicide
  • Reports a lack of attachment to the parent

Consider the possibility of emotional maltreatment when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Constantly blames, belittles, or berates the child
  • Is unconcerned about the child and refuses to consider offers of help for the child’s problems
  • Overtly rejects the child