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Children who are abused are at greater risk of becoming abusive or abused adults

Children who are abused are at greater risk of becoming abusive or abused adults

The Problem of Abuse & Violence Towards Children in Our Communities

A recent study found that child abuse is a significant problem in South Africa:

  • 1 in 3 children have experienced sexual abuse.
  • 42% of children have experienced some kind of abuse, for example physical abuse or neglect, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse and neglect.
  • Boys are just as likely to be abused as girls - all children need to be protected from abuse.

Children who have been abused are more likely to grow up to become abusers themselves, or to become victims of more abuse. This is called the cycle of abuse and is one of the main reasons that violence and abuse continue to be a problem in South Africa.

Sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect, and emotional abuse and neglect can play a part in influencing how people behave as adults.

Even emotional abuse and neglect can have serious consequences. Children who experience verbal abuse can suffer much the same effects as children who have been physically abused.

Men who are violent towards women are more likely to have been abused as children

Men who were abused as children are 5 times more likely to be violent towards women. This is because:

  • They may begin to use abuse and violence against others in their own personal relationships because this is all they knew growing up; it is normal to them.
  • They may use violence against their partner because they do not know how to positively manage difficulties in their relationship.

Women who have been abused as children are more likely to experience further abuse as adults

Women who are raped before they turn 18 are 2 times more likely to be raped again as adults. People who have abused as children can become vulnerable to further abuse because:

  • Childhood abuse can give children the message that their needs are not important. As adults they may then have problems drawing healthy boundaries with others, leaving them vulnerable to abusive partners.
  • Low self-esteem or low self-worth are possible consequences of childhood abuse. These feelings could lead to the person to becoming involved with, and staying with, people who mistreat them.
  • People who have been abused as children can have difficulties identifying people who are trustworthy.

The Different Kinds of Child Abuse

There are different kinds of child abuse. One or more kinds of child abuse often happen at the same time, for example, a child who is being physically neglected will probably also suffer from emotional neglect. The different forms of child abuse are:

Physical abuse: Is any physical harm done to a child or teenager, including punching; shaking; kicking; hitting; slapping; pinching; and biting, that causes: marks; cuts; bruises; fractures; burns and internal injuries.

Physical neglect: Is when a parent or caregiver does not give a child basic care and protection, including food, clothing, a safe, clean living environment, education and medical care.

Sexual abuse: Child sexual abuse is any sexual activity that happens between an adult and a child. Child sexual abuse can also be perpetrated by children against other children. Child sexual abuse also includes non-touching activities like: showing a child pornography; purposely exposing an adult's genitals to a child; encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts; and inappropriately watching a child undress or use the bathroom.

Emotional abuse and neglect: Is when a child or teenager is regularly belittled, humiliated and ridiculed, for example through name calling. Emotional neglect is when parents or caregivers repeatedly fail to provide the child with proper support, care, attention and affection.

How to Tell if a Child is Being Abused

The table below lists warning signs of abuse that teachers, parents, caregivers and family and community members can be aware of in children and teenagers.
It is important to remember that there may be other reasons for a physical injury or problem, or a change in behaviour that may not be caused by abuse. But if you notice that your child, or a child you know, is showing a combination of warning signs then you should reach out for help.

For help please call Childline free of charge on 08 000 55 555

Sexual abuse

Physical warning signs:

  • Any pain, injury, soreness, redness, swelling or itching around the mouth, genital or anal area
  • Difficulty walking or sitting because of genital or anal pain
  • The child often has pain during urination and/or bowel movements
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
  • Pregnancy

Behavioural warning signs in young children:

  • Inappropriate sexual play with self and others
  • Inappropriate sexual drawings
  • Knowledge of sexual acts that is inappropriate for the child's age
  • Seductive behaviour towards other children or adults
  • Excessive masturbation
  • Unnecessary layers of clothing, such as wearing a long-sleeved jersey on a warm day
  • Avoidance of bathrooms
  • Personality changes
  • Change in appetite
  • The child's performance at school suddenly gets worse
  • Sleeping problems
  • Nightmares

Behavioural warning signs in older children and teenagers:

  • Unnecessary layers of clothing, such as wearing a long-sleeved jersey on a warm day
  • Avoidance of bathrooms
  • Often arriving late or being absent from school
  • Personality changes
  • Change in appetite
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Self-harm (child cuts, burns or intentionally injures themselves in other ways)
  • Trouble concentrating
  • The child's performance at school suddenly gets worse
  • Being too eager to please others
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Talking about or attempting suicide
  • Sleeping problems
  • Nightmares
  • Not wanting friends to visit at home
  • Not wanting to go home or getting home too early
  • Being secretive or wanting to be alone much of the time.
  • Running away
  • Risky sexual behaviours (having many sexual partners, having unprotected sex, having sex when drunk or high)
Physical Abuse

Physical warning Signs:

  • Unexplained marks or bruises
  • Unexplained burns
  • Fractures
  • Cuts
  • Abdominal injuries
  • Bite marks
  • Bruises on the head
  • Unbelievable explanations for injuries

Behavioural Warning Signs:

  • The child suddenly becomes scared of adults
  • The child suddenly does not want to go to certain places
  • The child cries when it is time to leave a safe, protected environment
  • Repeated absences from school
  • Unnecessary layers of clothing, such as wearing a long-sleeved jersey on a warm day
  • Slowdown in development or poor performance at school

Physical neglect

Physical warning signs:

  • Often hungry
  • The child is not well looked after, is often dirty and has poor hygiene
  • Unattended physical problems, for example health problems
  • The child is not supervised properly or is left alone for long periods of time

 Behavioural warning signs:

  • Stealing food
  • Tired and has no energy
  • Falling asleep in the classroom
  • Trying to away from home for as long as possible, for example the child always arrives early for school and leaves late
  • Problem behaviour
  • Saying there is no-one to care for him/her

Emotional abuse and neglect

Behavioural warning signs:

  • Low self-esteem, self-worth and a lack of self confidence
  • Withdrawal from others and wanting to be alone
  • Being too eager to please others
  • Difficulties setting healthy limits and boundaries with other people - these can be physical and emotional boundaries
  • Displaying an inappropriate amount of affection or not showing much affection at all
  • Being nervous and overly attentive to what is going on around them

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