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What constitutes as child abuse?

Whilst there is no clear legal definition, child abuse can exist in various forms; some more obvious than others. Neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and domestic abuse all fall under the umbrella term of child abuse and can have a lifelong effect on the child. The trauma of the abuse can leave the survivor feeling lost and confused and this repressed anxiety can manifest in adulthood. 


Neglect can be physical when a child’s basic needs are not adequately met; children may be deprived of proper supervision, food, clothing and shelter. Neglect can also take the form of a parent depriving their child of an education. Emotional neglect is when a child doesn’t receive the love and nurture they need. This could be through emotional abandonment, ignoring, humiliating, intimidating or isolating them. Neglect can also be when a child isn’t given proper health care. This includes dental care and refusing or ignoring medical recommendations.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can have a detrimental effect on a child’s emotional development. Emotional abuse may involve belittling a child and telling them that they’re worthless. Emotional abuse can also involve subjecting a child to unfair punishment and depriving the child of social opportunities. 

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is when someone deliberately harms a child, causes them pain or makes them unwell. 

Sexual Abuse

This form of abuse is when a child is forced to partake in sexual activities; they may not understand what’s happening and violence may be used to coerce children into sexual activity. 

Sexual abuse might involve physical contact, for example, sexual touching or sexual assault. Sexual abuse might also consist of non-contact activities, such as exposing children to indecent images or grooming a child online. Sexual abuse also comprises of using young people for prostitution – if the young person involved is under 18, it’s always child sexual abuse. 

Domestic Abuse

A child should never find themselves in the middle of the two adults in their home. If a child sees or hears domestic abuse (violence, emotional/verbal abuse etc) then this can greatly affect the quality of life of the child and counts as a form of domestic abuse. 

Child abuse can be a single occurrence, or the abuse may go on over several months or years. A lot of the time, children are too young to understand what is happening to them, so it is important to be aware of the signs that a young person is being abused. 

According to the NSPCC website, spotting the signs of child abuse might involve:

  • unexplained changes in behaviour or personality
  • becoming withdrawn
  • seeming anxious
  • becoming uncharacteristically aggressive
  • lacks social skills and has few friends, if any
  • poor bond or relationship with a parent
  • knowledge of adult issues inappropriate for their age
  • running away or going missing
  • always choosing to wear clothes which cover their body

If you know a child who is experiencing abuse of any form, or you were abused as a child and are now an adult seeking justice, get in touch with our team of empathetic, friendly solicitors on 0151 242 5111 who can help you to receive compensation for the crime committed against you.