Child abuse is a worldwide epidemic that is especially troubling here in the United States, where more than 3 million cases of child abuse are reported annually.
Child abuse takes on many forms, from general neglect to physical, sexual or emotional abuse and exploitation, including child sex trafficking.
The definition of child abuse involves the physical or emotional harm, injury or death of a child by a parent or caregiver. A child can be beaten, kicked, burned, whipped, be subjected to sexual violence or exposed to (or the subject of) pornography, or can be emotionally abused through rejection, shaming, humiliation or terrorizing. Neglecting a child’s basic health or safety needs can also be considered child abuse.
Some of the symptoms and signs of child abuse include:
- Poor school performance
- Irritability or being quick with anger
- Anxiety or panic
- Crying easily and/or more often
- Nightmares or bed-wetting
- Frequently complaining about physical ailments (headaches, stomachaches)
- Spending more time alone or away from friends and family
- Exhibiting clingy behavior
- Acting younger than their age
- Expressing thoughts of suicide or self-injury
- Exhibiting risky behaviors (Unsafe play, running in the middle of the street, etc.)
- Significant or sudden change in weight (gain or loss)
- Repeated physical injuries or trips to the doctor’s office or emergency room
- Overdressing to cover up injuries
- Loss of self-esteem or negative self-assessments
- Inappropriate sexual behavior
Risk factors that could contribute to child abuse include:
- Family history of domestic abuse
- Parental lack of understanding of a child’s needs
- Social isolation
- Substance abuse
- Poverty, unemployment or other socioeconomic disadvantages
- Lack of cohesiveness within the family structure
- Domestic violence in the home
- Parental stress or distress, including depression and other mental health issues
- Community violence
- Negative interactions between parent and child
Children who are abused should be secured from further abuse through the help of law enforcement or child-welfare services. Work with licensed mental health therapists, pediatricians and other health specialists is encouraged.
Adults in Nebraska are required, under state law, to report any instance of child abuse that they witness. There are a variety of toll-free hotlines available to report child abuse cases, including:
Darkness to Light
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)
Haven House’s Crisis Line is also available 24 hours a day,
7 days a week, at 800-440-4633.