Types of Abuse: Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse and Neglect

This blog is part 1 in a series of blogs about abuse. Vikky Chaffe our Head of Community Relations will explore the different types of abuse that children and young adults could become victims of. She will also look at different symptoms that a child might display when they are a victim of abuse. These are in no way an exhaustive list but it is a way of being aware that, however small, a change in behaviour could be a sign that the child needs help. 

Content Warning: Please be advised that the content below is sensitive and contains detailed information concerning types of abuse and examples or symptoms of physical and sexual abuse and neglect. This may be triggering for some readers, discretion is advised. 


Physical abuse 

Physical abuse is when a person deliberately hurts a child, young person or vulnerable adult. Physical abuse does not stop at harm caused by using a part of the body such as a hand or fist. Physical abuse can also be caused by other objects such as, hitting with objects, slapping, kicking, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, biting and scratching, drowning and breaking bones. 

Symptoms of Physical Abuse 

This is possibly the easiest type of abuse to detect because there is, usually, visible evidence. You are likely to see marks on a child but most abusers try to keep these marks not visible, so you have to be observant when a child is in clothes that don’t cover their body, like their P.E clothes.  They could be subtle and the child might be trying to disguise them so you have to be observant. When I was a DSL I had a child who had become more quiet than usual and became distressed when it was time to change for P.E. They were adamant that they didn’t want to get changed but when I spoke to them I found out why they were so distressed. They had been a victim of physical abuse and had cigarette burns across their shoulders. 

Sexual abuse 

Sexual abuse is where a child, young person or vulnerable adult is tricked, groomed or forced to partake in sexual activities. This could be contact or non-contact.  

Contact can include:

  • Sexual touching of any part of a child’s body, even through clothes,
  • Using a body part or object to penetrate a child
  • Forcing or grooming a child to take part in sexual activities
  • Making a child undress or touch someone else

Non–contact can include:

  • Adults who expose themselves to children
  • Showing pornography
  • Exposing a child to sexual acts
  • Making them masturbate
  • Forcing or tricking a child to make, view or share child abuse images or videos
  • Forcing or grooming a child to take part in sexual activities or conversations online

Symptoms of Sexual Abuse 

Just as there are two types of sexual abuse there are two types of symptoms that you need to be aware of. Behavioural and physical. Some of the behavioural signs to look out for are not wanting to be alone or being frightened of a person they know, not using age-appropriate sexualised language, having nightmares or bed-wetting, substance abuse, self-harm, eating disorders, hygiene and changes of mood. 

There are some physical signs to look out for too: pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, bleeding or pains in the genital area and bruises on the arms and thighs.  


This is one of the most common forms of abuse and one of the hardest to prove. Its definition is a failure to meet a child, young persons or vulnerable adult’s basic needs. This can be physical, emotional, educational or medical.

  • Physical neglect is when the basic need of food, clothing or shelter are not met.
  • Emotional neglect is when a child is not given the nurture that they need. This could be by ignoring, humiliating, intimidating or isolating them.
  • Educational neglect is when a parent or carer doesn’t give the child the education that they need.
  • Medical neglect is when you refuse health care, including dental or refuse to follow the advice of medical professionals. 

Symptoms of Neglect 

The symptoms of neglect can be varied and easy to hide. They could include, a child having poor hygiene or dishevelled appearance, health or development issues, housing and family concerns or a change in behaviour. They might also find it difficult to make or keep friends and have a difficult time trusting adults. 


Part 2 of this blog series focuses on Emotional abuse, Child Sexual Exploitation and Radicalisation.

Part 3 of this blog series focuses on Peer-on-Peer Abuse, Female Genital Mutilation, Bullying and Online Bullying.

Part 4 of this blog series focuses on Forced marriages, Child trafficking and  Criminal Exploitations and Gangs.  

Seek Support

If you have any concerns, please speak to your safeguarding lead or contact the organisations below 

  • NSPCC Helpline - call 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk
  • Childline - call 0800 1111 or use the 1-2-1 online chat
  • Education Support helpline - immediate, confidential emotional support for teaching staff 0800 562 561
Posted Date

18th March 2022

Vikkey Chaffe
Head of Community Relations

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