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What is Abuse?

Abuse occurs when a child or young person (someone who is 17 years of age or under) is harmed by another person, either physically, verbally, emotionally or sexually.

If you or someone you know are in immediate danger call the police on 999 or 101.

Talk to Childline 0800 11 11 if you are worried about signs of abuse.

Being mistreated or abused (sometimes called ‘Significant Harm') is defined as Sexual Abuse, Physical Abuse, Neglect or Emotional Abuse.

If you need some help because you are being hurt in any of the ways described above, or if you of know someone else who is, you should talk to someone about this, for example a teacher or a youth worker, or another professional person that you know and trust.

If you don’t feel like you can talk to someone you know there are help lines and other professionals that you can talk to. It can be really hard to tell someone but there are lots of people who can help.

Types of Abuse

Physical Abuse

When an adult deliberately hurts a child, such as hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning, drowning or suffocating.

Signs of physical abuse may include:

  • unexplained injuries or burns
  • making up stories or refusing to explain their injuries
  • wearing a lot of clothes i.e. long sleeved tops; even in hot weather
  • not wanting to be watched undressing for PE or avoiding sports lessons
  • talking about running away
  • fear of doctors examination
  • aggressive or violent towards others
  • not wanting anyone to touch them
  • talking a lot about being punished at home for small problems such as not doing the washing up properly
  • being worried or afraid about people talking to their parents/ carers or family

Emotional Abuse

This would happen, for instance, when a child is all the time being unfairly blamed for everything, or told they are stupid and made to feel unhappy.

Signs of emotional abuse may include:

  • delays surrounding physical, mental and emotional development
  • unusual difficulties in communicating or talking
  • putting themselves down constantly (i.e. I am stupid, ugly, worthless)
  • overreaction to mistakes, punishing themselves if they get things wrong
  • extreme fear of any new situation;saying they deserve pain or bad things to happen to them
  • unusual behaviour i.e. rocking on chairs, hair twisting, self-harm
  • having no interest in anything or anyone
  • becoming aggressive
  • being pushed to be the best in school and sports beyond what they can or want to do


Where a child is not being looked after properly, for example, not getting enough to eat or being left alone in dangerous situations.

Signs of neglect may include: 

  • lack of food;
  • poor personal hygiene
  • constant tiredness
  • poor state of clothing i.e. holes in clothes, old or dirty clothes;
  • extreme loss of weight, or weight gain;
  • constantly asking for things like food money;
  • not having anything of their own in class i.e. books pens etc.

Sexual Abuse

An example of sexual abuse would be where a child has been forced to take part in sexual activities or in the taking of rude photos.

How do I know if my friend is being abused?

Although the following signs do not necessarily mean your friend is being abused, it is important to tell a trusted adult if you think they are showing a number of these signs so that someone can help to find out if they need help. Your school or college should have a trained child protection officer who can talk through any concerns with you.

Sexual abuse

Signs of sexual abuse may include: 

  • talking a lot about sex and giving detailed descriptions.  Your friend may appear to know more about sex or sexual activities than you or your other friends the same age;
  • becoming depressed and  talking about harming themselves in some way;
  • running away or talking about running away from home;
  • having personality changes such as becoming insecure or clinging;
  • spending a lot of time alone and not 'joining in' with groups of friends;
  • appearing a lot younger than they are - behaving like a 'baby' i.e. sucking their thumb or carrying around a cuddly toy;
  • having a sudden loss of appetite or overeating;
  • suddenly starting to draw sexually detailed pictures;
  • not allowing anyone to touch them.

Child Sexual Exploitation

There are a number of organisations you can speak to if you think a child is in immediate danger, call the police on 999.

If you are worried about how you or someone you know is being treated tell someone. Call Childline Opens new window on 0800 11 11 it's a private and confidential service, meaning that what you say stays between you and ChildLine (If there are immediate, serious concerns for you or someone else's safety, they may contact someone else following a discussion with you first)

You can get advice and help from NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 or get help via email on