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What is Child Abuse?

What Is Child Abuse

Child abuse happens when children are mistreated either by someone inflicting significant harm on a child or failing to act to protect them from significant harm. Different types of child abuse are noted below:

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is when someone causes physical harm to a child. It may be that children are hit, shaken, burned, poisoned, beaten or bruised, which is generally considered to be physical assault. Physical punishment of children may be considered physical abuse, particularly if an implement (e.g. belt, slipper or wooden spoon) was used, the child was shaken or hit about their head or if the punishment left a mark or bruise.

Physical abuse also occurs when a parent or carer pretends that the child is ill or deliberately causes ill health to their child to obtain medical treatment or care.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is persistent emotional neglect or ill treatment of a child. It may involve communicating to a child that they are worthless or unloved, or that they only have value in so far as they meet the needs of others. Emotional abuse is present in all types of abuse however, it may also occur in isolation or independently from other types of abuse.


Neglect is the persistent failure to meet the physical and psychological needs of children and young people. It may involve not providing physical care such as food, clothing, shelter or access to appropriate medical care. However it can also encompass not providing emotional support, affection and care needed for children to develop.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is anything that involves the child in activities for the sexual pleasure of another person, regardless of whether it is considered that the child agreed or consented to the activity. Sexual abuse may involve physical contact e.g. sexual touching, kissing or sex acts or may be non-contact, e.g. creating or viewing sexual images of children, exposing children to sexual content (e.g. pornography) or using sexual language to a child.

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse which involves the child or young person being given gifts, money or affection in exchange for having sex or sexual contact with others. In some situations the child or young person may believe themselves to be in a loving, consensual relationship because they have been groomed by the perpetrator over a period of time.

Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (WRASAC) Dundee support  women and young people of all genders who have experienced any form of sexual violence, abuse or exploitation in their lives.

Child Sexual Exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a largely hidden crime that happens to thousands of children under the age of 18 each year. Children and young people have been groomed  by their abusers, and as a result, can often trust their abuser or not understand that what is happening to them is abuse.

CSE is a form of sexual abuse. The young person may receive gifts, money, alcohol/drugs, clearing a debt, somewhere to stay or affection in exchange for a sexual act. It can still be sexual exploitation if the young person doesn’t receive anything; this would be the case where someone else is gaining from the abuse of that child, for example, gaining money, status or power. This can happen online. and offline.

Some children and young people are trafficked into or within the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Sexual exploitation can also happen to young people in gangs.

Children cannot consent to being sexually exploited. Even if someone claims that the child gave consent for a sexual act or any other part of the exploitation, a child is either not of the age where they can legally give consent, or that the situation they are in means that they cannot give free agreement because they have been groomed and there may be pressure, threats, blackmail or manipulation. The abuse can be from an adult, or it may be from another young person.  

Things to look out for that you might notice in children and young people who are being exploited include:
unexplained gifts/items, or returning under the influence of substances

If you are worried about a child or young person being sexually exploited, it is important that you share this worry. You can contact Police or the Multi Agency Screening Hub on 01382 307940

- Changes in mood
- Going missing
- Staying out late
- Being secretive about where they are going
- Going to ‘house parties’
- Lack of interest in activities and hobbies
- Missing school
- Changes in appearance
- Change of mood when online
- Having or talking about multiple partners
- Talking about STI’s or pregnancy’s
- Unknown cars collecting/dropping off

Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is any type of controlling, bullying, threatening or violent behaviour between people in a relationship. But it isn’t just physical violence – domestic abuse includes emotional, physical, sexual, financial or psychological abuse.

Abusive behaviour can occur in any relationship. It can continue even after the relationship has ended. Both men and women can be abused or abusers.

Domestic abuse can seriously harm children and young people. Witnessing domestic abuse is child abuse, and teenagers can suffer domestic abuse in their relationships

There are several groups in Dundee who can offer advice and support victims and children who have experienced domestic abuse. Dundee Women’s Aid offer confidential helpline and can access specialist counselling services, and dedicated children’s workers. There may be refuge accommodation for women who may want and need this. Shakti’s Dundee service provides support to Black and Minority Ethnic Women (BAME) who are experiencing or fleeing domestic abuse. MIA (Multi Agency Independent Advocacy) provided crisis intervention services to help women and their families to minimize future risk of harm.

Child Trafficking

Child trafficking and modern slavery are child abuse. Children are recruited, moved or transported and then exploited, forced to work or sold. Many children are trafficked into the UK from abroad, but children can also be trafficked from one part of the UK to another.

Children are trafficked for:
child sexual exploitation
- benefit fraud
- forced marriage
- domestic servitude such as cleaning, childcare, cooking
- forced labour in factories or agriculture
- criminal activity such as pickpocketing, begging, transporting drugs, working on cannabis farms, selling pirated DVDs and bag theft

Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It's also known as female circumcision or cutting.

Religious, social or cultural reasons are sometimes given for FGM. However, FGM is child abuse. It's dangerous and a criminal offence.

There are no medical reasons to carry out FGM. It doesn't enhance fertility and it doesn't make childbirth safer. It is used to control female sexuality and can cause severe and long-lasting damage to physical and emotional health.

Forced Marriage

Forced marriage happens when a person who does not want to get married, or a person under 16 or a vulnerable person (e.g. with a learning or physical disability) who is not able to give consent, is pressured or tricked into marriage.

The ‘force’ used can be physical or emotional (such as telling them they will bring shame upon their family). Sometimes forced marriages happen in the UK, but at other times people are taken overseas for wedding ceremonies.

A forced marriage is very different from an arranged marriage where both the bride and groom can choose if they want to go ahead with the marriage. In a forced marriage there is no freedom of choice.

Forced marriage is illegal.

Online Abuse

Online abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the web, whether through social networks, playing online games or using mobile phones. Children and young people may experience cyberbullying, grooming, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or emotional abuse.

Children can be at risk of online abuse from people they know, as well as from strangers. Online abuse may be part of abuse that is taking place in the real world (for example bullying or grooming). Or it may be that the abuse only happens online (for example persuading children to take part in sexual activity online).

Children can feel like there is no escape from online abuse – abusers can contact them at any time of the day or night, the abuse can come into safe places like their bedrooms, and images and videos can be stored and shared with other people.