Recognising the Warning Signs of Abuse in Children

Recognising the Warning Signs of Abuse in Children

The Trinity Sailing Foundation is committed to changing the lives of disadvantaged young people through challenging experiences of self-discovery. Some of those we work with have suffered various traumas. But how can you recognise a child who is a victim of abuse and in need of help?

Many telltale signs point to abuse, and it is important to understand them and the particular type of abuse that is occurring so the proper aid can be given.

The Different Types of Abuse

Domestic abuse does not only mean violence, although that can be part of it. There are, unfortunately, many different ways that children can experience being abused. These various ways include:

  • Physical Abuse: Violence directed at the child with the intent to harm.
  • Sexual Abuse: Forcing a child to engage in an explicit sexual activity.
  • Emotional Abuse: Also known as psychological abuse which involves withholding affection as well as criticism and threats.
  • Substance Abuse: Exposing children to drugs and illegal substances through use, sale, or manufacture.
  • Neglect: Not seeing to the child’s physical, medical, emotional or educational needs.
  • Abandonment: Leaving the child alone permanently or for extended periods.

The Warning Signs

As each type of abuse is different, they have different warning signs that signal that the child is suffering. If these behaviours or conditions are observed in a child, it is worth looking into, to determine if they are being abused in these ways.


Frequent and unexplained injuries including cuts, welts, bruises or burns. Constantly “on edge” and flinches from sudden movements. Shies away from touch and does not wish to go home.


Avoids a particular person for no reason. Displays sexual behaviour inappropriate for age (flirting, seducing, sex or sex-like acts). Has an STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14. Does not wish to change clothes in front of others.


Excessively withdrawn, anti-social and isolates self. Shows extreme behaviours such as compliant, demanding, adult or infantile. Acts unattached to parents or care givers.


Evidence of this type of abuse is usually seen in the parent or caregiver. However, bizarre or sophisticated knowledge of drugs or illegal substances may be a warning sign.


If a person has become socially isolated and is frequently absent from school, or other organised events, then this is a significant sign that neglect and abuse may be taking place. If the child appears to have injuries or dental problems that have not been treated, or is wearing inappropriate or inadequate clothing, then these are also common red flags that they are not being looked after. Finally, if neglect is particularly severe, then the child may be seen begging or stealing money or food.

What Can Be Done?

A typical behaviour in all abused children the feeling that they are alone and no one cares. It is important for adults to educate themselves about abuse and debunk widely held myths so that they are ready to help. Once abuse is dealt with, social interaction and acceptance are needed for all victims of abuse.

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