Unfortunately, many children do not experience childhood as safe. The hard reality: at least one in 10 children will be sexually abused by their eighteenth birthday. Child abuse is considered to be an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) that can negatively impact a victim emotionally, physically, and psychologically over the course of a lifetime. The consequences can be felt for years to come—in health, behavior, and life potential. It can mean a higher risk of chronic disease, suicide, increased drug use, and lower high school graduation rates.
To create safer communities for children, we must understand child abuse—what it is, how to recognize it, and how to report suspected abuse.
What do you mean by “child abuse”?
Under Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law (CPSL), the term “child abuse” is defined as:
(A) Any recent act or failure to act by a perpetrator which causes nonaccidental serious physical injury to a child. (B) An act or failure to act by a perpetrator which causes nonaccidental serious mental injury to or sexual abuse or exploitation of a child. (C) A recent act, failure to act or series of the acts or failures to act by a perpetrator which creates an imminent risk of serious physical injury to or sexual abuse or exploitation of a child. (D) Serious physical neglect by a perpetrator constituting prolonged or repeated lack of supervision or the failure to provide the essentials of life, including adequate medical care, which endangers a child’s life or development or impairs the child’s functioning.
The majority of cases referred to Children’s Advocacy Centers are for child sexual abuse allegations. However, CACs also respond to cases of child physical abuse, as well as extreme neglect and trafficking (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, CSEC). Additionally, CACs also serve children who have suffered emotional trauma as witnesses to violence.
Sexual abuse occurs when an adult or another child asks or pressures a child for sexual contact. The abuser may use physical abuse, bribery, threats, tricks, or take advantage of the child’s limited knowledge of sexual matters. Sexual abuse can also include taking photos of the child, or showing them pornography through pictures, magazines, movies, online, etc.
Parents often warn children against “stranger danger” but in most cases of child sexual abuse, the perpetrator is not a stranger but a relative or close friend of the family.
Are there typical signs?
Some child abuse involves physical injury such as broken bones or bruising, but in many cases the signs are harder to read. A sudden change in behavior, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite—these are common indicators that a child may have experienced abuse. If you notice these or other possible signs of abuse, don’t wait and don’t hesitate! Call the PA ChildLine toll-free at 1-800-932-0313 to report your concerns. It could save a child’s life. Learn the Signs of Abuse – free PDF download
This printable poster is great for hanging up in schools, community centers, churches, synagogues and doctor’s offices. Feel free to print out this PDF – as many as you need – and share it with neighbors, teachers, pediatricians, parent-groups, any concerned adult looking for more information on how to make a difference in the life of a child.
What should I do if I suspect abuse in my home or somewhere else?
Suspicion is enough—you do not need proof. If you suspect a child under the age of 18 is being abused or neglected or is at risk for either, report it immediately:
Call ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313. Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
ChildLine is part of a mandated statewide child protective services program designed to accept child abuse referrals and general child well-being concerns and quickly transmit it to the appropriate investigating agency.
Watch the video to learn some of the facts about child abuse from a Pennsylvania survivor.