Spotting the signs of abuse

People walking through woods

Photo: Erik Söderström

Many people will have experienced someone they know being abused or abusing a child, but may not have noticed. When something is so difficult to think about, it is only human to find ways of denying it to ourselves. One of the common thoughts that parents in this situation have is; ‘My child would have told me if they were being abused and they haven’t - so it can’t be happening’.

Other things people have said to themselves include:

“He was the perfect father; he was involved with the children, he played with them and when our daughter was ill he looked after her so well.”

“I thought they were just fooling around. He couldn’t be abusing anyone at 14.”

“My brother would never do that to a child. He has a wife and children.”

“My friend has had a longstanding relationship with a woman. So how can he be interested in boys?”

“She was their mother: how could she be abusing them?”

“He told me about his past right from the start. He wouldn’t have done that if he hadn’t changed and I’d know if he’d done it again.”

Spotting the signs of potentially abusive people 

There may be cause for concern about the behaviour of an adult or young person if they:

  • Refuse to allow a child sufficient privacy or to make their own decisions on personal matters.
  • Insist on physical affection such as kissing, hugging or wrestling even when the child clearly does not want it.
  • Are overly interested in the sexual development of a child or teenager.
  • Insist on time alone with a child with no interruptions.
  • Spend most of their spare time with children and have little interest in spending time with people their own age.
  • Regularly offer to baby-sit children for free or take children on overnight outings alone.
  • Buy children expensive gifts or give them money for no apparent reason.
  • Frequently walk in on children/teenagers in the bathroom.
  • Treat a particular child as a favourite, making them feel ‘special’ compared with others in the family.
  • Pick on a particular child.

Most adults are safe, and physical affection is a vital part of bringing up children and should be positively encouraged. But the difference between genuine affection and abusive behaviour is not always clear. If we feel uneasy about the behaviour of an adult or another young person towards a child or children it is important to talk it over with someone we trust. The Stop it Now! Helpline can offer confidential advice - call 0808 1000 900.

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