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Types of Abuse

Physical Abuse:

The non-accidental injury to a child.  Excessive physical discipline is abuse.  Physical discipline is probably excessive if:

  • it results in physical injury, including bruises
  • punishment is used to instill fear, not educate
  • the adult loses control during discipline 
  • it is inappropriate for the age of the child
  • it is the result of unrealistic expectations or demands on the child

Examples of physical abuse are: hitting, kicking, choking, pinching, hair pulling, burning, shaking, using (or threatening to use) a weapon. 

Distinguishing Accidental Injury from Abuse

Where is the injury?  Injury on the child’s knees, elbows, shins and forehead are all parts of the body, which can be injured during an accidental fall or bump. 

Injury to the back, thighs, genitals, buttocks, back of the legs or face are less likely to be the result of normal age related activity.

What is the size and shape of the injury?  Many non-accidental injuries are inflicted with familiar objects:  a belt, hairbrush, stick, board, extension cord or rope.  The marks, which bear resemblance to the above object, are non-accidental.

The more injuries the child has, the more reason for concern.  Injuries in different stages of healing can suggest a pattern of abuse. 

Punishment or Abuse

Is your partner abusing your child and calling it punishment? Learn to recognize the difference between punishment and abuse. Choose your child over your partner.

Punishment can be considered abusive when it causes injury, becomes excessive, and creates what Ohio law calls “substantial risk of serious physical harm” to the child.

Punishment is probably excessive if:

  • the child has a physical injury (bruising, broken skin, swelling, or any situation that requires medical attention)
  • it is meant to instill fear rather than to educate
  • the adult loses control
  • the action is inappropriate for the child’s age

Wondering if the punishment has gone too far? Ask the following questions:

  • Does the adult feel good about this action?
  • Is there an important lesson to teach?
  • Does the child know that he or she is loved?
  • Is there mutual respect, or is there fear?
  • Is the adult behaving in a way that they would want the child to behave?

Many experts say an authoritative parenting style is best. That is when the child knows the adult is in charge and he/she respects, but does not fear the adult. Talk with the child about expectations, and decide together firm and appropriate consequences for misbehavior.

Verbal/ Emotional Abuse:

Chronic attitude or acts, which interfere with the psychological and social development of a child. When the adult does not provide the praise, nurturance, love or security a child needs for healthy development.

Examples of Verbal/ Emotional Abuse:

Name- calling and put-downs, yelling screaming, insulting, intentionally embarrassing the child in front of other people, making the child feel responsible for the violence.

Sexual Abuse:

Any act of a sexual nature upon or with a child.

Examples of Sexual Abuse Against Children:

  • any sexual act with a child age 12 or younger regardless of whether the child says it was consensual
  • when an adult, age 18 or older, has sexual contact with a child, ages 13-15, who is four or more years younger, regardless of whether the child says it was consensual
  • rape, which includes vaginal, oral or anal penetration by a body part or object, either forced or under threat of force
  • unwanted kissing or touching of private parts
  • exposing private parts to a child
  • viewing pornography or exchanging photos or video of nude children or children engaged in sexual acts

What to Know about Child Sex Abuse

Child sex abusers are usually people that the child or family knows well – your boyfriend, a family member, neighbor or close friend.  Be cautious about “stranger danger” messages that may keep a child from talking to you about someone they know who is harming them. 

Sex abusers often “groom” victims by forming loving relationships with them over a long period of time.  It is never too early to tell a child that no one has the right to touch them if they do not want to be touched.  This includes loving touches from parents, grandparents, friends and family members.  Remind adults to respect a child’s decision if they do not want to be tickled, kissed, hugged or touched – for any reason.  In addition, sexual contact with a child should never be confused as “playful.”

Limit one-on-one time that your child has with any other adult, including people you know well.  If another adult, such as a boyfriend, is spending one-on-one time with your child, drop in unexpectedly as frequently as you can.

Understand why a child may not tell you if someone is hurting them.  Abusers often shame children or tell children that his or her mother will be angry if they find out.  The abuser is often manipulative and may try to confuse the child about what is right or wrong.  The child may be worried that the abuser will harm you if you find out.

Lastly, remember that it is very rare for a child to lie about sexual abuse.  If a child tells you something that seems suspicious, it is important for you to BELIEVE the child unconditionally.  Do not blame or shame the child for an act that was committed against them.  Contact a professional, such as the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center hotline at 216-619-6192, for information and support about how to help a child.