Recognizing child abuse is complicated. Some people have differing opinions on what constitutes child abuse, while others may second guess what they saw.
When faced with a scenario that leaves you questioning whether child abuse has occurred, Dr. Kristen Iniguez, a pediatric child abuse and neglect specialist with Marshfield Clinic Health System, says you should trust your instincts.
“It is not your decision in the end whether this child has been abused or not,” said Iniguez. If there are concerns, she suggests contacting Child Protective Services immediately. “By simply making that phone call, you are advocating for the safety of a child.”
Once you have reported the abuse to child protective services, they make a decision about whether to investigate the accusation depending on the amount and type of information they have.
In order to identify the family, law enforcement needs enough information about the parents and/or children involved to investigate.
Types of abuse
Once child protective services has the report, they determine the type of concern and decide if the act meets the threshold to be considered abuse.
There are different types of abuse, so there are different factors that would go into identifying the different types. It is not really a clean answer,” Iniguez said.
Officials recognize four types of child abuse including:
- Physical abuse: Causing bodily harm to a child by leaving a mark or injury.
- Sexual abuse: Forcing or inducing a child to participate in sexual activities. This includes having sex, watching pornography, producing pornographic images and participating in prostitution.
- Neglect: Caregiver fails to provide the necessary resources for a child’s health and well-being for reasons other than poverty. This can include not providing a warm place to sleep or needed medication.
- Emotional abuse: Caregiver doesn’t provide the appropriate caregiving and nurturing early on, or the caregiver is so verbally aggressive toward a child that they don’t feel safe.
Signs of abuse
While you may not always see the abuse happen, there are some signs you should watch for:
- Babies who are less than a year old should not have a bruise. This is a huge red flag.
- Toddlers between the age of one and four years old should not have bruises on their torso, ears or neck.
- A child is typically telling the truth if they are telling you about sexual abuse.
Even if someone reports child abuse, it does not mean the case is always substantiated. There are many reasons officials may not find evidence. This includes not being able to identify the family or it being too far beyond the event to collect physical evidence.
To report concerns for child abuse, contact your local child protective services office. Contact information is available online at https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/reportabuse.