Lesson 8: Child Abuse

Generally, there are five types of abuse that constitute child abuse. There are no universal definitions, so we have provided only a summary here from the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Sexual Abuse

  • The World Health Organisation defines child sexual abuse as the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to … or that violate the laws or social taboos of society. Child sexual abuse is evidenced by this activity between a child and an adult or another child who by age or development is in a relationship of responsibility, trust or power, the activity being intended to gratify or satisfy the needs of the other person.

Physical Abuse

  • Physical abuse is the non-accidental injury and/or physical harm to a child caused by a parent, care-giver or other person. This injury can also be caused by another child. Physically abusive behaviours can include shoving, hitting, slapping, shaking, throwing, punching, biting, burning and kicking.
  • Physical abuse may be intentional or the inadvertent result of physical punishment that causes physical harm. Remember too that child abuse can be unintentional, such as an injury caused through poorly maintained or sub-standard facilities and equipment.

Emotional Abuse

  • Emotional abuse involves behaviours that may psychologically harm a child, including verbal abuse, threats, bullying, harassment or excessive and unreasonable demands. Emotional abuse may take the form of:
  • rejection, where an adult refuses to acknowledge a child’s worth, or continually belittles them maliciously
  • terrorising a child with verbal ‘assaults’, creating a climate of fear, intentionally bullying or frightening a child
  • corrupting a child by deliberately encouraging anti-social, deviant and destructive behaviour.


  • Neglect is where a child is at risk of injury/harm or is harmed by the failure to provide them with the basic physical and emotional necessities of life. It is important to be aware that some children with a disability are at greater risk of child abuse due to mobility constraints and/or difficulties with communication. Extra care should be taken to reduce the risk of abuse.
  • Neglect also covers any injury or harm to a child due to poor maintenance or sub-standard facilities and equipment.

Family or Domestic Abuse

  • Sometimes known as domestic violence, means violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family (the family member), or causes the family member to be fearful (Family Law Act).


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