What is child abuse?

Child abuse involves any action that causes harm for a child as well as a failure to act in a proper way.  Psychologists define it as any emotional, sexual, or physical mistreatment or neglect of a child. According to the classification of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child abuse may involve one or more types of action mentioned above. Children may be abused by a parent, family member, or any other caregiver, like a teacher or a sports coach. It typically involves a close person, rather than a stranger.

Unfortunately, child abuse occurs in all cultures, countries, and economic classes. It may be caused by various reasons, for instance, mental health issues or substance abuse problems influencing the person who delivers the abuse. Also, it may happen because caregivers face financial pressure or unemployment. 

Back in 2016, child protective services in the US got 676,000 reports of people struggling with abuse or neglect. According to some studies, 1 in 4 children suffers from some kind of abuse at some time. It is an acute problem that resulted in 1,750 child fatalities in America in 2016.

Children often fear the person who acts abusively because they see his/her too powerful. They are also afraid that nobody will believe them. That is the reason why they don’t speak up. Abuse typically makes children feel embarrassed, ashamed, or worried to be blamed.

What are the 4 types of abuse?

Child abuse can have different forms, such as physical, emotional, sexual abuse, and neglect.

Physical abuse and its signs

Physical abuse means intentionally harming or hitting a child. It can involve pinching, slapping, tripping, biting, shaking, drowning, or  making any other physical harm.

There are many signs of physical abuse, such as bruises, broken bones, bites, burns, injuries, fear of a specific person, protesting to go to a particular location, flinching when touched, wearing long-sleeved clothes in summer to cover up injuries, and many others. 

Adults who carry out abuse may appear too harsh with a child and behave unpredictably with no clear rules or boundaries. Abusers also lash out in anger when something goes wrong instead of explaining and use the fear of physical punishment as a way to control a child.

Emotional abuse and its signs

Emotional abuse means consistently saying things and acting in a way that conveys to the child that they are worthless, unloved, or inadequate. The examples of emotional abuse can be ridiculing what a child says, shouting or threatening, using ‘silent treatment’ as a punishment, not allowing to express views and opinions, bullying, ‘emotional blackmail’, and preventing social interaction with peers.

The signs that indicate emotional abuse may be having extremes in behavior, lack of attachment to a caregiver, age-inappropriate behavior, appearing anxious or afraid. 

Sexual abuse and its signs

Sexual abuse is any behavior that forces or entices a child to take part in sexual activities. Sexual abuse may happend when the child doesn’t understand what is going on and there is no violence or force. Sexual abuse may include looking at, showing, or sharing sexual images, or other material, telling dirty jokes or stories, inviting a child to undress,touching outside of clothing, rubbing, kissing, or masturbating, rape or oral sex, getting a child to watch such acts.

Signs of sexual abuse may include demonstrating sexual knowledge or behavior which is beyond the age bizarre, or unusual, shying away from a specific person, pregnancy or having  sexually transmitted diseases, alternations in mood or appetite, talking about being sexually abused. Physical signs may also involve difficulty walking or sitting down. Typically, an abuser asks a child to keep the relationship in secret or threatens with something bad happening.


Neglect can involve not providing appropriate food, clothing, adequate shelter or medical care, leaving a child in a situation in which they might experience danger or harm, and locking a child in a room or closet. Not responding to a child’s basic emotional needs can lead to such long-term effects as loneliness, isolation, and low self-esteem. 

The signs of neglect may be having unwashed clothes, skin, or hair,  medical care needs that are not being met, using drugs or alcohol, lacking food or money, and frequently missing school. 

Neglect can happen because of the difficulties experienced by a parent, such as stress, substance abuse, untreated mental conditions, or lack of support. Often, offering support and training to parents can enable them to avoid emotional neglect.

How to recover from emotional trauma?

There are many ways to heal emotional trauma and let go of a traumatic past. The most efficient of them are the following:


This biohacking method helps to learn more about one’s emotions and how their brain works. To make a neurofeedback, one connects electrodes to your head to see brain activity in real time. This data allows people to train themselves to have higher alpha waves that ensure the state like in deep meditation. Rewiring the brain to become more calm and focused helps to release trauma. 

EMDR therapy

EMDR or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy also helps to rewire your brain and process the event that caused the traumatic trigger. During an EMDR session, you need to watch a light moving from left to right at specific speeds. Specific eye movements cause in your brain a state where you can uncover and face past distressing events more easily. At the same time, a therapist guides you through those events, helps you to process them and rewire your brain. According to the research, EMDR is highly effective at healing emotional trauma in the long-term.


Meditation alongside psychotherapy is a great biohack. Scientists have proved that regular meditation relieves chronic stress, promotes calm focus and happiness. Also, it boosts emotional regulation and self-awareness that help to deal with trauma. Meditation allows us to uncover negative brain loops caused by trauma  and rewire response to them. What’s more, it’s free and you can practice it anytime and anywhere. Meditation is more effective when paired with psychotherapy.

Child abuse cases

National Statistics on Child Abuse

Unfortunately, child abuse is a common experience in the US. According to the statistics, approximately 700,000 children are abused in America each year. In 2018, nearly 678,000 unique cases of abuse and neglect were registered, which is about 1% of kids. Besides, this data may be incomplete, and the actual number of cases is likely underreported.

The data shows that more than 3.5 million children received an investigation from child protective services agencies and about 1.9 million children got prevention services. Psychologists state that  children in the first year of their life are most vulnerable so they had the highest rate of victimization of 2.7%.

Anton Kurapov

Anton Kurapov

PhD, a professor assistant at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Fascinated by the role of psychology in lives of people and simply astonished by the complexity of the brain and its functions.

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