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What is child abuse and is this happening to me?

Child abuse is any action by another person- adult or child- that causes significant harm to a child.  It can be physical, sexual or emotional, but can just as often be about a lack of love, care and attention.

Physical abuse is deliberately hurting a child, for example, through hitting, shaking, throwing etc.  It can cause injuries such as bruises, broken bones, cuts or burns.

Emotional abuse is where a child is made to feel worthless, unhappy and unloved.  It may involve unfairly blaming a child, or deliberately trying to scare, humiliate, isolate or ignore the child.

An example of sexual abuse would be where a child has been forced to take part in sexual activities or pictures of a child are taken, used or shared for sexual reasons. Sexual abuse can be in-person, or can be over the internet.

Neglect is when a parent (or carer) does not give a child or young person what they need to grow up healthy and happily. It is where a child is not being looked after properly, for example. A child may be left hungry or dirty, without proper clothes, shelter, supervision, and are not taken to the doctor when they need to be. A neglected child does not get the attention from their parents to help them do well in school, and help them grow up emotionally and socially. A neglected child may be put in danger or not protected from harm because the parents don’t try to protect them. Neglected children do not get the love, care and attention they need from their parents.

Bullying includes name calling, damaging property, stealing, spreading rumours, cyberbullying, hurting or getting people into trouble.

  • Physical bullying: when physical actions such as hitting, poking, tripping or pushing, are used to hurt and intimidate. Repeatedly and intentionally damaging someone’s belongings is also physical bullying.
  • Verbal bullying: involves the use of negative words, like name calling, insults, homophobia or racism, or words used to intentionally upset someone.
  • Social bullying: when lies, the spreading of rumours or nasty pranks are used. This includes repeated insults and deliberately stopping someone from being involved in activities with a group of friends.
  • Cyber bullying: this is the big one at the moment and is when technology is used to verbally or socially bully. It can occur in chat rooms, on social networking sites, through emails or on mobile phones.

When one adult in a family or relationship threatens, bullies or hurts another adult, for example physically (punching, kicking, cutting, etc.), through shouting and saying mean things, sexually (inappropriately touching them, forcing them to have sex, etc)  or by stopping another adult have access to money. Abusive behaviour can happen in any relationship. It can continue even after the relationship has ended. Both men and women can be abused or abusers. Young people can be abused by there girlfriends or boyfriends. Having parents who abuse each other can be an awful experience for children and young people. You can talk about this experience by ringing Childline on 0800 1111.

 You may have heard it called ‘trafficking’ or ‘grooming’ and this involves adults getting young people into swapping or selling sex for ‘something,’ like, gifts, money, drugs, alcohol or affection. Sexual exploitation can be hard to recognise because you often believe you’re in a good relationship with the person – or people – who want to abuse your trust in them. You can read more here.

Is when criminals, often part of gangs, target children and young people for their own gain. In some cases criminal exploitation is also sometimes called ‘County Lines’, as the movement of drugs, money, and people is often across multiple counties. Young people can be used for all sorts of criminal activity such as carrying or selling drugs/weapons and helping with robberies. You can read more here.

If you do think you or your friend is experiencing one of these issues please talk to a trusted adult or contact one of the numbers below.

In an emergency always ring 999.

If you are worried about anything, be it physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, or any other problem you are facing including mental health, ring Childline on 0800 1111. You can ring them about yourself, or a friend.

116 000 is the number to call or text for advice, support and options if you, or someone you love, goes missing or runs away. You can also talk to them about Exploitation. Not sure what Exploitation is? Click here to find out. You can also email

Contact the police on 101 to report a crime or a problem you might be experiencing related to gangs, trafficking or exploitation.