Can You See My Scars?
Author: Christine McLean
According to Newton and Gerrits (2011) “Abuse is something that cannot always be seen. [It] hurts people both inside and out and the pain feels worse when it is kept secret.” If the bruises and physical marks of physical abuse are not prominent, it is often difficult to determine if a child is being abused. Nevertheless, it is important for parents, and other people who interact with children, to be aware of the signs of child abuse so that they are able to rescue the child from the danger he or she is in.
The Signs of Sexual Abuse
The American Psychological Association highlights that the following behaviors in children could be signs of sexual abuse:
1. An increase in nightmares and/or other sleeping difficulties
2. Angry outbursts
5. Difficulty walking or sitting
6. Withdrawn behavior
7. Pregnancy or contraction of a venereal disease, particularly if under age 14
8. Propensity to run away
9. Refusal to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
10. Regressive behaviors depending on their age. For example, a return to thumb-sucking or bed-wetting.
11. Reluctance to be left alone with a particular person or people
12. Sexual knowledge, language, and/or behaviors that are unusual and inappropriate for their age
The Association also highlights the signs of sexual abuse in a child through the following behaviours in an adult:
1. He or she is overprotective of the child or severely limits the child’s contact with other children
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2. He or she is secretive and isolated
3. He or she describes marital difficulties involving sexual relations or family power struggles
The Signs of Emotional Abuse
HelpGuide.org highlights the following signs of sexual abuse in children:
1. The child is excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
2. The child shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
3. The child doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
4. The child acts either inappropriately like an adult by doing things such as taking care of other children or inappropriately infantile by doing such things as rocking, thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums.
There are some children, however, who may choose to put on a brave face and present a façade to cover up the hurt they are experiencing. It is much harder to detect signs of abuse in these children, but there may be instances where the child lapses and displays some of the signs indicated above. People who are constantly around children, such as teachers and day care providers, therefore need to be intuitive and develop an understanding of each child in his or her care. Understanding the children makes it easier to identify when something is wrong.
However, there is a flip side to this. A child may display some of these behaviors but the reason for doing so is not related to abuse. Consequently, it is important for people not to jump to conclusions but to instead talk to the child and observe the child in his or her natural surroundings is possible. If, after doing so, you are confident that the child is being abused, then you must report the matter to the police in the best interest of the child.
 Newton, S., Gerrits, J. (2011). Straight talk about…child abuse. New York: Crabtree Publishing.
 American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Child sexual abuse: what parents should know. Retrieved on September 22, 2013 from http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/child-sexual-abuse.aspx#.
 American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Child sexual abuse: what parents should know. Retrieved on September 22, 2013 from http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/child-sexual-abuse.aspx#
 Child abuse and neglect. (n.d) Retrieved on September 22, 2013 from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/child_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm