Signs & Symptoms of Abuse

August 11th, 2021 Respect Tools & Tips

As youth leaders, parents, and educators, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of maltreatment in children and youth. Maltreatment comes in many forms, including verbal, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, as well as neglect. Below we explore the unique and often overlapping signs and symptoms of the various forms of maltreatment. 


Signs of verbal abuse in children and youth may include:

  • Seeming fearful of adults, including parents or caregivers
  • Showing sudden changes in behavior (ex. an outgoing child becoming withdrawn or angry)
  • Lashing out verbally at their peers

Signs of physical abuse in children and youth may include:

  • Having unexplained injuries, faded bruises or noticeable marks especially to the head, upper arms or back
  • Shying away from touch, flinching at sudden movements, or seeming afraid to go home
  • Wearing inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries (ex. long-sleeved shirts on hot days)

Signs of sexual abuse in children and youth may include:

  • Having difficulty walking or sitting
  • Making strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without any obvious reason
  • Exhibiting unusually sophisticated behavior or sexual knowledge for their age

Signs of neglect in children and youth may include:

  • Wearing dirty clothes or being underdressed for the weather
  • Having bad hygiene (ex. regularly unbathed, matted and unwashed hair or body odor)
  • Having illnesses or physical injuries that go untreated, or lacking dental care or other medical needs

Emotional abuse underlies all forms of abuse and neglect. Signs of emotional abuse in children and youth may include:

  • Consistently showing low self-esteem and lacking confidence
  • Talking about suicide or self-harm
  • Feeling excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious

More information on preventing abuse and promoting safe, supportive environments for all children and youth can be found through our programs:



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