Signs of Child Abuse

The Joyful Heart Foundation lists the following signs of child abuse. It is vital that we are aware of all of them so as to keep a watchful eye on our children. 

Children who have experienced child abuse may demonstrate any of the following signs.


  • Failure to thrive socially or academically
  • Speech disorders
  • Delayed physical development
  • Attachment issues, such as discomfort with physical contact or difficulty connecting with others
  • Lags in physical, emotional or intellectual development
  • Learning disorders


  • Behavior extremes, such as appearing overly compliant and passive or very demanding and aggressive.
  • Withdrawn and/or overly sensitive behaviors
  • Increased fear or avoidance of a specific person and/or situation
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts and feelings
  • Substance use
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Anxiety and/or excessive worrying


  • Bruises, welts or swelling
  • Sprains or fractures
  • Burns
  • Lacerations or abrasions
  • Frequent physical complaints, such as stomachaches and headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Bedwetting


  • Difficulty in walking or sitting
  • Torn, stained or bloody clothing
  • Pain or itching in the genital area; bruises or bleeding in the external genital area
  • Sexually transmitted infections or diseases
  • Pregnancy
  • Knowledge of or interest in sexual behaviors that are not age appropriate


  • Low self-esteem
  • Uncharacteristic obedience or perfectionism
  • Strong feelings of shame or guilt
  • Programmed statements or behaviors

Child abuse is more prevalent than most people think.

90% of child sexual abuse victims know their abusers.

Of children who are sexually abused 20% are abused before the age of eight.

Only 4-8% of child sexual abuse is fabricated.

Use of alcohol or drugs at an early age can be a sign of child sexual abuse.

Child sexual abuse is the number one hardest crime to prosecute.

American Society for the Positive Care of Children states:

  • 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.37 3
  • Over 58,000 children were sexually abused last year. 12
  • 3 % of reported child abuse cases were sexual abuse. 1
  • 34% of people who sexually abuse a child are family members. 4
  • 3% of girls were age 10 or younger at the time of their first rape/victimization, and 30% of girls were between the ages of 11 and 17. 2
  • 8% of boys were age 10 or younger at the time of their first rape/victimization. 2
  • 96% of people who sexually abuse children are male, and 76.8% of people who sexually abuse children are adults. 4
  • 325,000 children are at risk of becoming victims of commercial child sexual exploitation each year. 5
  • Caregiver alcohol or drug abuse is a child abuse risk factor putting kids at much higher risk for being abused. 1
  • The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12 to 14 years old, and the average age for boys is 11 to 13 years old. 5






  1. Oceanbrz

    I need to say this and hope this part can be changed in this description of warning signs.

    I was an honor roll student even while I was being abused. My abuse didn’t become unbearable until I was ten and a half years old. So attribute this to my not suffering from many of the aspects listed on this chart. I have known other victims too who also were gifted students.

    Abuse doesn’t apparently make all children learning disabled. Some children, like me, developed a dual personality. Only my close friend was able to pick up that something was terribly wrong at my home because of my sudden change in behavior right before I crossed the street to my house. Others should have picked up on my nervousness. I mean it is difficult to say how other’s saw me. I know we were moved around a lot so that people couldn’t get a very good read on what was going on in our family.

    It is just we were punished severely for any mistakes that we made. After some time, every adult was a threat to me and my safety. It only made me more diligent in doing my homework. I believed my only hope in life was to make sure I got good grades so that I had more options then running away and turning to prostitution to survive. Though that was being said to me to create paranoia in me. Why I even feared any of that just goes to show how too much negative talk can warp your reality. I had an aunt and grandmother who could take me in. I never had to worry about being a homeless teenager. Yet I did worry. And is did cooperate with my abusers trying to steer the abuse away from my younger brother’s.

    If only there was this much information out there when I was a child. I also must remind myself that if there was this kind of mass media back then my misery could have been made much worse. As so many young people being exploited on the Internet are finding out.

    It is even more important that remove the shame our society has put onto victims of abuse. I get so mad when a child commits suicide because of the bullying and what little school administrators do to stop it from going on. We need to get the message out to empower children to speak up. If we do not flip the tables on these criminals they will continue to abuse children in every way possible.

    Anyone who rapes a child should be given the death penalty. Life in prison at the very least. We need some ammunition for children so that they can come forward without the risk of being tossed back into the lion’s den.

    There is some good news. Finally more parents are being prosecuted as accomplices instead of given a shoulder to cry on. A child’s first line of defense is their parents. If they turn their backs on them they have no one to turn to that they believe they can trust.

    The message finally is that if you refuse to report child abuse you will be prosecuted severely. It is the only way we can prevent these co-conspirators to come forward. If only it is to save their own skin.

    Bravo! Then there is Judge Persky, who being forced to answer for his poor reasoning and judgment in California. When another judge stepped up to try to protect this old boys school motto attention to towards him as well. We must be able to trust that those who sit on the bench will fairly judge crimes against victims. If they prove they cannot do this job they surely should not be seated up there. We can only win this fight for justice with others who believe no one deserves to commit felony crimes in this country. A felony is very bad. Not something to be judged lightly at all.

    Take good care everyone. Thank you for your support of the children in all of us. They never really leave us. It is important that we not turn our backs on the children coming up after us.

    1. Marjorie McKinnon (Post author)

      Thank you for responding. You are absolutely right regarding all of the things that need to change but I’m a bit confused on what part can be “changed in this description of warning signs”. Could you be more specific. Email me at Also, John Bradshaw’s book Healing the Shame That Binds You is an absolute must for anyone in recovery. Have you started any kind of recovery program?


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