What is Child Abuse?
There are four main types of abuse:
Sexual abuse - when a child is pressurised, forced or tricked into sexual activity by an adult. This could include fondling, masturbation, vaginal or anal intercourse, or oral sex. For some disabled children in particular, it could mean being involved in behaviour they do not understand or have not consented to.
Physical abuse - when a child is hit, shaken, punched or slapped, given harmful drugs or alcohol or injured in any way.
Emotional abuse - when a child is starved of love or affection, or is constantly threatened or demeaned. This may occur if children are subject to constant criticism, name-calling, and sarcasm, bullying or unrealistic pressure to perform to high expectations consistently.
Neglect - when a child's basic needs for food, warmth, clothing and medical care are not met. In sport, this could mean failing to ensure that children are safe, or exposing them to unnecessary heat, cold or risk of injury. In the case of disabled children, it could include not taking precautions to protect those who cannot see, hear or move themselves from danger, or taking away personal equipment on which they depend.
Bullying - although not formally recognised as a form of abuse, bullying by adults is also a form of child abuse and can harm children both physically and emotionally. Bullying can include deliberately embarrassing or humiliating a child, treating them unfairly or verbally abusing them, or deliberately ignoring them.
Tackling the problem in sport
The kinds of abuse most likely to occur during sports activities are sexual abuse, emotional abuse including bullying, and physical violence.
The sports community recognises its duty to safeguarded children from adults who may exploit positions of trust. Children must also feel able to report any worries they have about the behaviour of adults during sports activities.
More facts about abuse
Children of all ages may be sexually abused. The abuser may be a family member. Or they may be someone the child encounters within the community, including during sports and leisure activities.
Child sex abusers can be found in all areas of society, and from any professional, racial and religious background. Contrary to the popular image, they often appear kind, concerned and caring towards children. But this is deliberate - by forming close relationships with children, abusers can build their trust and help prevent adult suspicion.
Often an abused child will suffer more than one type of abuse at the same time. For example, parents who physically abuse their children may also be neglectful.
Signs of Abuse
Sometimes a child who is being abused may show some of the following signs:
- A change in his or her general behaviour. For example, they may become unusually quiet and withdrawn, or unexpectedly aggressive. Such changes can be sudden or gradual.
- He or she appears distrustful of a particular adult, or a parent or a coach with whom you would expect there to be a close relationship.
- He or she may describe receiving attention from an adult that suggests they are being 'groomed' for future abuse
- The child suddenly starts to lose concentration and to perform badly at school or in their sport, or refuses to attend school or club.
- He or she is not able to form close friendships.
- The child refuses to remove clothing for normal activities or wants to keep covered up in warm weather.
- If he or she shows inappropriate sexual awareness or behaviour for their age.
- The child has unexplained injuries such as bruising, bites or burns - particularly if these are on a part of the body where you would not expect them.
- If he or she has an injury which is not explained satisfactorily or properly treated by staff.
- A deterioration in his or her physical appearance or a rapid weight gain or loss.
- Pains, itching, bruising, or bleeding in or near the genital area.
N.B. It is important to remember that these signs do not always mean that a child is being abused - there may be other explanations. But if you think that a child may be being abused, it is important that you discuss your concerns with a professional.