Most people find it hard to imagine how someone could deliberately hurt a child or young person – and yet children in Wales are being abused every day, many of them in their own homes.
The abuse might be a one-off incident, e.g. a sexual assault or female genital mutilation, or may be ongoing, sometimes for many years.
There is no single reason for child abuse, but loss of temper, drug and alcohol misuse, controlling behaviour and sexual motivation frequently feature.
Some abusers might not consider their behaviour is abusive, e.g. parents who use physical restraint or threatening behaviour as a way of disciplining a child.
When a child grows up in an atmosphere of violence or abuse, they may think being pushed and beaten is normal – or it is their fault because they have annoyed an adult in some way or ‘asked for it’.
This is untrue – abuse is never a child’s or young person’s fault.
Since March 2022, all forms of physical punishment of children – such as smacking, hitting, slapping and shaking – are illegal in Wales.
Who are the abusers?
Most children know their abusers. Often they are family members – parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, siblings or cousins. They might be family friends, babysitters, business associates or even professionals in roles of trust who spend a lot of time around the child.
Young people who have been abused as children – and have not received support and counselling – may go on to become abusers themselves, e.g. school bullies and controlling partners.
Types of child abuse
Child abuse takes many different forms, and sadly many young people suffer multiple types of abuse:
- Physical abuse – this includes hitting, punching, kicking and burning
- Sexual abuse – including sexual violence and child sexual exploitation
- Emotional abuse – harder to recognise, but just as harmful as constant criticism and threats will have a damaging effect on a child’s emotional well-being
- Neglect – when a parent or carer fails to respond to the physical or emotional needs of a child or young person
- Domestic abuse – witnessing domestic abuse is a form of child abuse which leaves children feeling helpless and frightened
- Child trafficking – children are moved around by others for various reasons, including sexual abuse, forced labour and criminal activity
- Modern slavery – children are deprived of their freedom and forced or coerced into working for little or no pay
- Female Genital Mutilation – this cruel practice is illegal in the UK; however it still takes place in some cultures
- Sexting – texting explicit images can leave a young person open to bullying, grooming and sexual exploitation
- Grooming – online grooming is becoming more common; however, children can also be targeted by predators they meet in real life
- Bullying – bullying happens at home, at school, at work or online
- Hate crime – abuse directed at people who are perceived to be different because of their race, religion, disability, etc.
Recognising child abuse
Child abuse of any kind is unacceptable, yet it is not always easy to recognise the signs, even for professionals.
Young people who have been abused throughout their childhood may think their treatment is normal. Even if they do realise that what is happening to them is wrong, they may feel unable or afraid to speak out. If their abuser is a parent, close relative or someone in a position of power, they may be frightened of the repercussions or that no-one will believe them.
The NSPCC outlines normal behaviour at various stages of childhood and adolescence to help you to recognise when something is not right.
Stopping child abuse
Safeguarding children and young people from abuse is everyone’s responsibility.
If you suspect a child is being abused, report your concerns immediately (you do not need to leave your name). Don't wait until you are 100% certain – it could be too late. Your call could save a child’s life.
Ring the police on 101 or contact your council’s Local Safeguarding Team. In an emergency, call 999. If your concerns are about a child of school age, ask to talk to the school’s designated child protection teacher.
Social workers have a legal duty to investigate any concerns about a child or young person under 18 if they are made aware that they might be at risk from abuse or neglect.
Live Fear Free is an all-Wales website providing advice about abuse, how to recognise it and who to turn to for support.
Stop It Now! supports parents and others to recognise and prevent the sexual abuse of children.
NSPCC Cymru has information about child protection. Call: 0808 800 5000.
Childline supports all children and young people under 19. Call: 0800 1111.