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Practitioner & Volunteers

Types of Abuse

The NSPCC have produced a fact sheet with definitions and signs of abuse 

Physical abuse

A form of abuse which may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces, illness in a child.

Signs of Physical abuse


  • commonly on the head but also on the ear or neck or soft areas - the abdomen, back and buttocks defensive wounds commonly on the forearm, upper arm, back of the leg, hands or feet
  • clusters of bruises on the upper arm, outside of the thigh or on the body
  • bruises with dots of blood under the skin
  • a bruised scalp and swollen eyes from hair being pulled violently
  • bruises in the shape of a hand or object

Burns and scalds

  • can be from hot liquids, hot objects, flames, chemicals or electricity
  • on the hands, back, shoulders or buttocks; scalds may be on lower limbs, both arms and/or both legs
  • a clear edge to the burn or scald
  • sometimes in the shape or an implement for example, a circular cigarette burn
  • multiple burns or scalds.

Bite marks 

  • usually oval or circular in shape
  • visible wounds, indentations or bruising from individual teeth.

Fractures or broken bones 

  • fractures to the ribs or the leg bones in babies
  • multiple fractures or breaks at different stages of healing

Other injuries and health problems 

  • scarring
  • effects of poisoning such as vomiting, drowsiness or seizures
  • respiratory problems from drowning, suffocation or poisoning

Emotional Abuse

The persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or ‘making fun’ of what they say or how they communicate. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond a child’s developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction. It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyber bullying), causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

Signs of emotional abuse

There often aren’t any obvious physical symptoms of emotional abuse or neglect but you may spot signs in a child's actions or emotions. Changes in emotions are a normal part of growing up, so it can be really difficult to tell if a child is being emotionally abused.

Babies and pre-school children who are being emotionally abused or neglected may:

  • be overly-affectionate towards strangers or people they haven’t known for very long
  • lack confidence or become wary or anxious
  • not appear to have a close relationship with their parent, e.g. when being taken to or collected from nursery etc.
  • be aggressive or nasty towards other children and animals.

Older children may:

  • use language, act in a way or know about things that you wouldn’t expect them to know for thei age 
  • struggle to control strong emotions or have extreme outbursts
  • seem isolated from their parents
  • lack social skills or have few, if any, friends.

Sexual Abuse

Involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children. 

Signs of sexual abuse

Children who are sexually abused may:

Stay away from certain people

  • they might avoid being alone with people, such as family members or friends
  • they could seem frightened of a person or reluctant to socialise with them.

Show sexual behaviour that's inappropriate for their age

  • a child might become sexually active at a young age
  • they might be promiscuous
  • they could use sexual language or know information that you wouldn't expect them to 

Have physical symptoms

  • anal or vaginal soreness
  • an unusual discharge
  • sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • pregnancy


The persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:

• provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment);

• protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;

• ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers); or

• ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.

It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs. 

Signs of neglect

Poor appearance and hygiene 

They may:

  • be smelly or dirty
  • have unwashed clothes
  • have inadequate clothing, e.g. not having a winter coat
  • seem hungry or turn up to school without having breakfast or any lunch money
  • have frequent and untreated nappy rash in infants.

Health & development problems 

They may have:

  • untreated injuries, medical and dental issues
  • repeated accidental injuries caused by lack of supervision
  • recurring illnesses or infections
  • not been given appropriate medicines
  • missed medical appointments such as vaccinations
  • poor muscle tone or prominent joints
  • skin sores, rashes, flea bites, scabies or ringworm
  • thin or swollen tummy
  • anaemia
  • tiredness
  • faltering weight or growth and not reaching developmental milestones (known as failure to thrive)
  • poor language, communication or social skills.

Housing & family issues

They may be:

  • living in an unsuitable home environment for example dog mess being left or not having any heating
  • left alone for a long time
  • taking on the role of carer for other family members.

Child Sexual Exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

Signs of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Young people who are being sexually exploited may:

  • go missing from home, care or education.
  • be involved in abusive relationships, intimidated and fearful of certain people or situations
  • hang out with groups of older people, or antisocial groups, or with other vulnerable peers
  • associate with other young people involved in sexual exploitation
  • get involved in gangs, gang fights, gang membership
  • have older boyfriends or girlfriends
  • spend time at places of concern, such as hotels or known brothels
  • not know where they are, because they have been moved around the country
  • be involved in petty crime such as shoplifting
  • have unexplained physical injuries
  • have a changed physical appearance, for example lost weight.

They may also show signs of sexual abuse and grooming. 

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Female Genital Mutilation is defined by the World Health Organisation as procedures that include the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons. It is illegal in the UK to subject a girl or a woman to FGM, or to assist a non-UK person in carrying out FGM overseas (FGM act 2003). Young females under the age of 16 are at highest risk of FGM. The practice has roots in complex belief systems. It is practised by specific ethnic groups in all parts of the world however it is not related to any religion or culture.  

Signs of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)  (this FGM risk assessment tool may be of assistance) 

A girl at immediate risk of FGM may not know what's going to happen. But she might talk about or you may become aware of:

  • a long holiday abroad or going 'home' to visit family
  • relative or cutter visiting from abroad
  • a special occasion or ceremony to 'become a woman' or get ready for marriage
  • a female relative being cut – a sister, cousin, or an older female relative such as a mother or aunt

You can apply for a protection order if you or someone you know is at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM). This will help to keep you (or the person you know) safe from another person (the ‘respondent’).

NSPCC FGM Helpline
Telephone: 0800 028 3550
From overseas: +44 (0)800 028 3550

Contact the Police if you or someone you know is in immediate danger of FGM.

You should also contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office if you know a British national who’s already been taken abroad.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Telephone: 020 7008 1500
From overseas: +44 (0)20 7008 1500 

Forced Marriage 

In forced marriage, one or both spouses do not consent to the marriage and some element of duress is involved. Duress includes both physical and emotional pressure and abuse. 

Signs of Forced Marriage


  • Absence and persistent absence
  • Request for extended leave of absence and failure to return from visits to country of origin
  • Surveillance by siblings or cousins
  • Decline in behaviour, engagement, performance or punctuality
  • Poor exam results
  • Being withdrawn from school by those with parental responsibility and not being provided with suitable education at home
  • Not allowed to attend extra-curricular activities
  • Sudden announcement of engagement to a stranger
  • Prevented from going on to further/ higher education


  • Accompanied to doctors or clinic
  • Self-harm
  • Attempted suicide
  • Acid attack
  • Eating disorder
  • Depression
  • Isolation
  • Substance misuse
  • Early/ unwanted pregnancy
  • Female genital mutilation

Family history

  • Siblings forced to marry
  • Early marriage of siblings
  • Self harm or suicide of siblings
  • Death of a parent
  • Family disputes
  • Running away from home
  • Unreasonable restrictions- e.g. kept at home by parents and financial restrictions 

You can apply for a forced marriage protection order if one of the following applies:

  • you or someone else is being threatened with a forced marriage
  • you’re in a forced marriage

The order will be designed to protect you according to your individual circumstances, eg to stop someone taking you out of the UK


Forcing someone to marry isn’t always physical, but it is always against the law. For help and support, contact the #ForcedMarriage Helpline on 020 7008 0151 or visit #righttochoose

There is practice guidance that has been developed to assist practitioners working to support people with learning disabilities to recognise and take appropriate action when there is a risk of forced marriage.

Honour Based Violence(HBV)

‘Honour’ based violence (HBV) occurs when perpetrators believe a relative or other individual has shamed or damaged a family’s or community’s ‘honour’ or reputation (known in some communities as izzat), and that the only way to redeem the damaged ‘honour’ is to punish and/or kill the individual. ‘Honour’ based violence is a term that is widely used to describe this sort of abuse however it is often referred to as so called ‘honour’ based violence because the concept of ‘honour’ is used by perpetrators to make excuses for their abuse. There is a very strong link between ‘honour’ based violence, forced marriage and domestic abuse. 

Signs of Honour based violence – see signs of Forced Marriage  

Modern slavery and trafficking of human beings 

The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons. By the means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person. For the purpose of exploitation; including , at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. 

Signs of modern slavery and trafficking (also see signs of CSE)

  • not in possession of passport, ID or other documents
  • acting as if under instruction
  • appearing hesitant and letting others speak for them; little eye contact
  • in a situation of dependence – bonded by debt and/or repaying transport costs
  • receiving little or no pay; few or no personal possessions; always in the same clothes
  • no freedom of movement; rarely allowed to travel alone, unfamiliar with their neighbourhood
  • evidence of physical or emotional harm, or deprivation of food, water, sleep, medical care or other necessities
  • poor living conditions – dirty, cramped or overcrowded and possibly living and working at the same address
  • isolation, with little or no social interaction; not in free contact with family or friends and fearful of strangers

Discriminatory Abuse/ Hate Crime

This includes discrimination on the grounds of race, faith, religion, sexual orientation, age and political views. Hate crime is any criminal offence that is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice or hate. It can include threats, physical attack, verbal abuse etc

Signs of discriminatory abuse/ hate crime

This type of abuse is usually targeted as someone’s personal characteristics, e.g.:

  • ethnicity – you can be a victim of hate crime because of the colour of your skin or because of the country you come from or the language you speak
  • faith – someone attacks you because of your religion or for the lack of a religious belief
  • sexual orientation – this is where you are attacked because you are gay, lesbian or bisexual
  • transgender status – this is victimisation against you because of your actual or perceived gender identity (not sexual orientation)
  • disability – this attack is because you have or appear to have a mental illness, a physical disability or learning disability

Radicalisation and extremism  

Radicalisation is the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and extremist ideologies associated with terrorist activity. Extremism is vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs, and calls for the death of members of the official armed forces, whether in this country or overseas. (HM Government 2015 Revised Prevent Duty Guidance; England & Wales). 

Signs of radicalisation and extremism

Radicalisation can be really difficult to spot. Signs that may indicate a child is being radicalised include:

  • isolating themselves from family and friends
  • talking as if from a scripted speech
  • unwillingness or inability to discuss their views
  • a sudden disrespectful attitude towards others
  • increased levels of anger
  • increased secretiveness, especially around internet use

Children who are at risk of radicalisation may have low self-esteem, or be victims of bullying or discrimination. Extremists might target them and tell them they can be part of something special, later brainwashing them into cutting themselves off from their friends and family Signs that an individual may be being groomed into extremism could be:

  • individuals becoming withdrawn and stopping participating in their usual activities, they may express feelings of:
  • anger
  • grievance
  • injustice
  • or go missing from their home, school or care setting
  • a new group of friends who have an extremist ideology
  • using language that supports ‘us and them’ thinking
  • or possessing or searching for extremist literature online.