The Four Primary Types of Child Abuse

Perhaps the most important part of Child Abuse Prevention Awareness is knowing what, exactly, is deemed to be child abuse.

Every ten seconds, another case of child abuse is reported to authorities. The number of children undergoing abuse is staggering, and frightening. But how to best prevent these abuses is a question with a multi-fold answer.

First, we must be able to recognize what child abuse is, then we can begin to work on ways to prevent it. For the purposes of this article, we will look at the four most widely recognized forms of child abuse.

Physical Abuse –

Unfortunately, when the public hears the words “Child abuse”, physical abuse is one of the two most common types that comes to mind.

Physical abuse of a child is easy to define.  It is any deliberate, aggressive action on the child that inflicts pain. Wounds, bruises, burns, and sore muscles are all examples of signs of physical abuse.

Often, the perpetrator of this type of abuse is the person who oversees or has custody of the child, physically – a parent, an immediate family member of a foster care provider.

These children live in fear of upsetting their care provider for fear of retribution in the form of physical abuse.


When parents are continually unavailable for their children it constitutes neglectful abuse. Neglect, or the absence of parental care, can have damaging effects on a child’s well-being and is the most common form of child abuse.

There are many factors that can cause parents to neglect their children. Substance abuse, mental illness, being consumed by a job or new relationship. Parents who neglect their children may not even be aware that their actions are considered neglectful or abusive.

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse is often referred to as mental or emotional abuse and involves the breaking of a child’s spirit, sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Making harsh comments, or putting a child down, or being cruel any action that causes the child to suffer mental anguish or deficits is considered psychological abuse. It is also termed ’emotional abuse’ because damage caused to one’s mental state inevitably creates emotional damage.

Besides strong critical statements, psychological abuse can also include: yelling frequently, withholding kindness or affection, prolonged periods of silence, and harsh jokes, to name a few examples. Like any type of abuse, there may be degrees of severity, but the actions still constitute abuse.

Sexual Abuse

Considered perhaps the most heinous of all abuses, child sexual abuse occurs when someone touches a child in a sexual way or commits a sexual act with a child.  Sexual abuse includes any type of behavior toward a child that is intended for an offender’s sexual stimulation. Among this type of abuse is fondling, forced sexual acts, or indecent physical exposure.

Abuse includes one isolated event as well as incidences that go on for years.

Teaching our children, the 1970’s technique “stranger danger” may have done more harm than good, because the fact is that most child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a family member, close friend or someone else who is familiar to the child. People that family or friends would never imagine are behaving in such ways are often the culprits.

In fact, child sexual abuse by a stranger is very rare. The ratio of stranger abuse in comparison to known-offender abuse is 7%, whereas abuses committed by close family friends or other authority figures familiar with the child is 59%, and sexual abuse committed by a family member is 34% (*1)

In many instances of sexual abuse by a known abuser or family member, the child displays physical signs of stress such as poor appetite, anger issues, inability to focus and panic attacks or other fear-based behaviors. They often carry the secret of their abuse due to having been threatened by their abuser with physical harm to themselves or their families, or by psychological terror in creating the belief that the child will go unheard or won’t be believed. This type of torment creates the fear of displeasing their abuser.


No matter the type of child abuse, it is vital to the safety of our children and the welfare of those children, their families, and even their communities that we create programs of early intervention, detection, and prevention.

The long-term effects of child abuse are extremely detrimental the adult survivors physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, with many suffering life-long effects, such as sexual promiscuity, drug, and alcohol abuse and lasting mental illness and relational damage.

If you are a survivor of childhood abuse and need help, please contact me. I have 17 years experience in working with and treating the long-term effects of childhood abuse and provide online sessions with no insurance requirements.

(*1) Reference:


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