What is abuse?

Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse occurs when someone uses a child to meet his or her own needs.  It can include any sexual contact, non-physical sexual interaction, or sexual exploitation of an infant, child, or adolescent.  Sexual abuse may consist of numerous acts over a long period of time or a single incident.  It can include vaginal intercourse, sodomy, fondling, exposing oneself, asking a child to engage in sexual acts, oral copulation, and any penetration of the genital or oral opening, suggestive talk, exposing a child to sex or pornography, or exploiting a child through pornography.

Physical Abuse 

Physical Abuse is the non-accidental infliction of physical injury to a child.  Physical Abuse may involve the use of whips, paddles, switches, and extension cords as well as battering and kicking.  Injuries to a child may consist of bruises, scars, red marks, burns, bites, welts, strangulation, internal injuries, broken bones or death.


Severe Neglect

Severe Neglect includes long periods with no supervision, abandonment, maternal deprivation, children from infancy to age 8 left unattended and long delays in obtaining medical help for serious injury.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional Abuse is any chronic or persistent act by an adult that endangers the mental health or emotional development of a child including rejection, ignoring, terrorizing, corrupting, constant criticism, insults, giving no guidance or support.

Under Indiana law any individual who has a reason to believe a child is a victim of abuse or neglect is considered a mandated reporter.

Signs of Physical Abuse

Physical Indicators

  •  Unexplained bruises and welts, perhaps in unusual patterns or shapes which suggests the use of an instrument (belt buckle, electric cord, etc.), often seen after absences, weekends, or vacations.                     
  • Unexplained burns, cigarette burns, especially burns found on palms, soles of feet, abdomen, buttocks: immersion burns producing “sock” or “glove” marks on hands and feet, “doughnut shaped” on buttocks or genital area.                    
  • Rope burns           
  • Infected burns indicating delay in treatment
  • Fading bruises or other marks

Behavioral Indicators

  • Behavioral extremes (withdrawal, aggression, regression, depression)   
  • Inappropriate or excessive fear of parent or caretaker
  • Antisocial behavior such as substance abuse, truancy, running away, fear of going home                   
  • Unbelievable or inconsistent explanation for injuries                 
  • Lies unusually still with surveying surroundings (for infants)                  
  • Unusual shyness, wariness of physical contact

Signs of Sexual Abuse   

Physical Indicators      

  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothes   
  • Frequent, unexplained sore throats, yeast, or urinary infections
  • Complaints of pain and irritation of the genitals            
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Bruises or bleeding from external genitalia, vagina or anal region          
  • Trouble walking or sitting                     
  • Pregnancy

Behavioral Indicators 

  • The victim’s disclosure of sexual abuse                    
  • Regressive behaviors (thumb-sucking, bedwetting, fear of the dark)                
  • Promiscuity or seductive behaviors               
  • Disturbed sleep patterns (recurrent nightmares)                
  • Unusual, age-inappropriate interest in sexual matters
  • Avoidance of undressing or wearing extra layers of clothes                     
  • Sudden decline in school performance, truancy          

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Physical Indicators                 

  • Eating disorders, including obesity or anorexia                    
  • Speech disorders (stuttering, stammering)             
  • Developmental delays in speech or motor skills                     
  • Weight or height level substantially below norm              
  • Flat or bald spots on head (infants)                 
  • Nervous disorders (rashes, hives, facial tics, stomach aches)

Behavioral Indicators                

  • Habit disorders (biting, rocking, head-banging)                     
  • Cruel behavior, seeming to get pleasure from hurting children, adults or animals: seeming to get pleasure from being mistreated                      
  • Age-inappropriate behaviors (bed-wetting, wetting, soiling)                      
  • Behavioral extremes, such as overly compliant-demanding; withdrawn-aggressive; listless-excitable

Signs of Neglect

Physical Indicators                    

  • Poor hygiene, including lice, scabies, untreated diaper rash, bedsores, and body odor             
  • Unsuitable clothing; overdressed or underdressed for climate conditions         
  • Untreated injury or illness                  
  • Lack of immunizations                 
  • Indicators of prolonged exposure to elements (excessive sunburn, insect bites, colds)                     
  • Height and weight significantly below age level

Behavioral Indicators               

  • Unusual school attendance, including chronic absenteeism                     
  • Chronic hunger, tiredness, or lethargy         
  • Asking for leftovers                
  • Assuming adult responsibilities             
  • Reporting no caretaker at home

What is Childhood Traumatic Stress?

Child traumatic stress occurs when children and adolescents are exposed to traumatic events or situations, and this exposure overwhelms their ability to cope with what they have experienced.

Depending on their age, children respond to traumatic stress in different ways. Many children show signs of intense distress—disturbed sleep, difficulty paying attention and concentrating, anger and irritability, withdrawal, repeated and intrusive thoughts, and extreme distress.  Some children develop psychiatric conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and a variety of behavioral disorders.

While some children recovery quickly after adversity, traumatic experiences can result in a significant disruption of child or adolescent development and have profound long-term consequences.  Repeated exposure to traumatic events can affect the child’s brain and nervous system and increase the risk of low academic performance, engagement in high-risk behaviors, and difficulties in peer and family relationships.  Fortunately, there are effective treatments for child traumatic stress.  (Source: http://www.nctsn.org/content/defining-trauma-and-child-traumatic-stress)

Learn more about abuse and trauma…

National Child Traumatic Stress Network: www.nctsn.org

National Children’s Advocacy Center: http://nationalcac.org/

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network): https://rainn.org

Stop It Now: http://www.stopitnow.org/

If you have more questions or would like services to address abuse and trauma, call Cherish at 317-773-3275 or email kelly@cherishcac.org.