Home Teen Education Parent Tips Teen Board Gatekeeper Volunteer Contact Us

What Is Child Abuse?

Child abuse occurs when a parent, guardian or caregiver mistreats or neglects a child, resulting in

  • injury, or
  • significant emotional or psychological harm, or
  • serious risk of harm to the child.

Child abuse entails the betrayal of a caregiver's position of trust and authority over a child. It can take many different forms.

Physical abuse is the deliberate application of force to any part of a child's body, which results or may result in a non-accidental injury. It may involve hitting a child a single time, or it may involve a pattern of incidents. Physical abuse also includes behaviour such as shaking, choking, biting, kicking, burning or poisoning a child, holding a child under water, or any other harmful or dangerous use of force or restraint. Child physical abuse is usually connected to physical punishment or is confused with child discipline.

Child sexual abuse occurs when a child is used for sexual purposes by an adult or adolescent. It involves exposing a child to any sexual activity or behaviour. Sexual abuse most often involves fondling and may include inviting a child to touch or be touched sexually. Other forms of sexual abuse include sexual intercourse, juvenile prostitution and sexual exploitation through pornography. Sexual abuse is inherently abusive emotionally and is often accompanied by separate and more direct forms of psychological abuse or other forms of mistreatment. Child sexual abuse is not further addressed in this fact sheet. A separate fact sheet dealing exclusively with child sexual abuse is available from the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence.

Neglect occurs when a child's parents or other caregivers are not providing essential requisites to a child's emotional, psychological and physical development. Physical neglect occurs when a child's needs for food, clothing, shelter, cleanliness, medical care and protection from harm are not adequately met. Emotional neglect occurs when a child's need to feel loved, wanted, safe and worthy is not met. Emotional neglect can range from the context of the abuser simply being unavailable to that in which the abuser openly rejects the child. While a case of physical assault is more likely to come to the attention of public authorities, neglect can represent an equally serious risk to a child.

Emotional abuse involves an attack on a child's sense of self. Emotional abuse is usually found in the context of a long-term problem in a parent's treatment of a child. It is often part of a pattern of family stress and dysfunctional parenting.1 Emotional abuse frequently co-exists with other types of abuse. Constantly insulting, humiliating or rejecting a child, or saying that a child is ``stupid'' or ``bad'', can harm a child's sense of worth and self-confidence.

Other forms of emotionally abusive treatment include forcing a child into social isolation, intimidating, exploiting, terrorizing or routinely making unreasonable demands on a child. Some provinces in Canada now include exposure of a child to violence between the parents as a form of emotional abuse. A recent study of wife assault found that children witness violence against their mothers in almost 40 percent of violent marriages.2 National Clearing House on Family Violence


Genesis Women’s Shelter
New Beginnings


©2006 - Teen CONTACT Crisis Line - all rights reserved.