What is child abuse?

Child abuse is any action (or inaction) which causes harm to a child or a young person under the age of 18. There are many different forms of child abuse such as physical, sexual and emotional mistreatment and even neglect.

Abuse can affect a child at any time or place, such as in the home, at school, attending the Scouts, in church and online. Both adults and other children can be perpetrators. Child abuse can be, but tends not to be, a one-off occurrence, and usually takes place on a number of separate occasions over a period of time.

Bolt Burdon Kemp can help you make a claim and seek compensation for the trauma you or your child may have endured. We usually work on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, so get in touch today.

Child abuse – the effects

The NSPCC estimates that over half a million children are abused in the UK each year.

Abuse can cause serious and long-lasting damage which stays with the survivor throughout their life. The abuse can be extremely traumatic and can cause difficulties as the survivor grows and develops, often impacting upon relationships, education, career and day-to-day life.

Long-term effects include:

  • Emotional difficulties
  • Mental health difficulties
  • Issues with drugs or alcohol
  • Behavioural problems
  • Poor physical health

Types of child abuse

Child abuse can take a number of different forms and often a child may suffer more than one type of abuse. The different types of child abuse include:

Childhood sexual abuse

Childhood sexual abuse occurs when an adult commits sexual acts upon a child. The abuse can be both physical and non-physical.

The following are considered to be child sexual abuse:

  • Grooming a child
  • Discussing sexually explicit topics with a child
  • ‘Sexting’ a child
  • Taking inappropriate photographs or videos of a child
  • Showing sexually explicit images to a child
  • Touching a child inappropriately
  • An adult exposing themselves to a child
  • Forcing them to engage in sexual behaviour, e.g. kissing, intercourse, etc.

Sexual child abuse is often perpetrated by someone the child knows and trusts.

Physical abuse

Purposefully causing harm to a child through a physical action such as hitting is physical abuse. Abuse is deliberate – the abuser’s aim is to hurt that child and, in extreme circumstances, can cause death.

Physical child abuse can include:

  • Hitting, punching, kicking, etc.
  • Breaking a child’s bones
  • Giving them harmful drugs or alcohol
  • Deliberately causing ill health
  • Fabricating or inducing illness – making up an illness the child doesn’t have and giving them drugs they don’t need
  • Failing to protect a child from harm
  • Shaking or hitting a baby, causing non-accidental head injuries


Child neglect occurs when an adult fails to meet a child’s basic needs over an ongoing period. If a child is left hungry or is often dirty and not cared for, it is classed as abuse. Children need love, care and attention and they rely on adults to look after them − if this is not being fulfilled it is damaging to the child and their development.

Neglect includes:

  • Failure to provide food, shelter or warmth
  • Failure to seek or follow medical care
  • Abandoning a child
  • Failure to provide appropriate supervision
  • Unwillingness or inability to provide appropriate care for a child

One in 10 children has experienced neglect. A child who is subject to neglect is also often abused in other ways.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is sometimes referred to as psychological abuse because of its effects on the child’s emotional and social development. If a child is constantly criticised or spoken to negatively, or even constantly silenced, this abuse can have a long-lasting impact.

Emotional child abuse can take the form of:

  • Bullying
  • Humiliation
  • Denying a child love and affection
  • Criticism
  • Terrorising a child
  • Over-protection by limiting a child’s exploration and learning
  • Hearing or seeing another being person or child being mistreated

Emotional abuse is almost always involved in all of the previous examples of abuse, above.

Bolt Burdon Kemp can help

If you think you or your child has experienced any of the above forms of abuse, Bolt Burdon Kemp can help you get justice. Our team of specialist solicitors are highly experienced in child abuse cases and understand how difficult it can be to talk about what has happened. We handle all issues with the utmost professionalism and sensitivity so please contact us today.