Unfortunately, child abuse is far too prevalent and often goes unnoticed, or worse, ignored. The number of children suffering each year from abuse is staggering. According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, there were 66,721 confirmed cases of child abuse or neglect in Texas in 2015. Among those cases, 8,127 were in Central Texas. Recognizing the telltale signs of child abuse and can save children from suffering abuse in our community.
There are four main types of child mistreatment: physical, neglectful, emotional and sexual abuse. Physical abuse includes physical injury that causes harm or the threat of physical injury to a child. Physical abuse involves punching, shaking, kicking, beating, biting, choking and burning, and is considered abuse regardless of whether the individual intended to hurt the child. Signs that a child is being physically abused include frequent injuries such as bruises, cuts, broken bones, black eyes and burns without plausible explanations; bruises or burns in unusual patterns such as the shape of an object or fingerprints, bite marks, cigarette burns; multiple complaints of pain without obvious injury; fear of going home; aggressive and destructive or passive and withdrawn behavior; clothing that may be hiding injuries to arms or legs, such as wearing long sleeves during summer; or presence of injuries after not seeing the child for several days.
The second type of abuse is neglect, characterized by the intentional failure to provide a child’s basic needs. Signs of neglect include obvious malnourishment, torn or dirty clothing, lack of hygiene, being unattended for long periods of time, frequent absences or tardiness at school, stealing or begging for food, or an unaddressed need for glasses, medical attention, or dental care.
Emotional abuse involves aggressive language, yelling, name calling, insults, humiliation, extreme forms of punishment (such as confining a child in a dark closet), excessive criticism, destruction of personal belongings or withholding attention. Emotional abuse causes significant psychological harm. According to the American Psychological Association, emotional abuse is as harmful as physical or sexual abuse. Signs of emotional abuse include low self-esteem; depression, anxiety or aggression; over-compliance; difficulty making friends; or delayed physical, emotional, or intellectual development.
The fourth type of abuse is sexual abuse. Sexual abuse involves engaging in any form of sexual contact with a child, asking a child to engage in sexual activities, indecent exposure of genitals, exposing a child to pornography or using a child to produce pornography. Signs that a child is being sexually abused include physical signs of a sexually transmitted disease; evidence of injury to genital area; sexual comments or behavior; extreme fear of being alone with adults of a certain gender; sexual knowledge beyond what’s expected for age; pregnancy in a young girl; guilt, self-blame, or depression; nightmares or insomnia; or sexual victimization of other children.
If you are concerned at all that a child is possibly being abused, please call Child Protective Services immediately at 1-800-252-5400. Your call could save a child’s life.
Dr. Nishath Farhad is a pediatric resident at Baylor Scott & White McLane Children’s Medical Center.