Types of Abuse

Different types of abuse are described below:

Online Abuse

Online abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the web, whether through social networks, playing online games or using mobile phones. Children and young people may experience cyberbullying, grooming, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or emotional abuse.

Children can be at risk of online abuse from people they know, as well as from strangers. Online abuse may be part of abuse that is taking place in the real world (for example bullying or grooming). Or it may be that the abuse only happens online (for example persuading children to take part in sexual activity online).

Children can feel like there is no escape from online abuse – abusers can contact them at any time of the day or night, the abuse can come into safe places like their bedrooms, and images and videos can be stored and shared with other people.

Sexual Abuse

A child is sexually abused when they are forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities. This doesn’t have to be physical contact, and it can happen online. Sometimes the child won’t understand that what’s happening to them is abuse. They may not even understand that it’s wrong.

There are two different types of child sexual abuse. These are called contact abuse and non-contact abuse.

  • Contact abuse is where an abuser makes physical contact with a child, including penetration.
  • Non-contact abuse covers other acts where the abuser doesn’t touch the child, such as grooming, exploitation, persuading children to perform sexual acts over the internet and flashing.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is deliberately hurting or injuring a child. Physical abuse includes, hitting, shaking, poisoning, burning, drowning, suffocating, kicking, hair pulling, beating with objects, throwing and making a child ill.

Signs which may suggest physical abuse:

  • any bruising to a baby – pre-walking stage
  • multiple bruising to different parts of the body
  • bruising of different colours indicating repeated injuries
  • fingertip bruising to the chest, back, arms or legs
  • burns of any shape or size
  • an injury for which there is no adequate explanation.


Neglect means the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, which is 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 it could involve a parent or carer failing to:

  • provide an adequate environment, food, clothing, 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)
  • access appropriate medical care or treatment.
  • meet or respond to a child’s basic emotional needs.

Signs which may suggest neglect:

  • squalid, unhygienic or dangerous home conditions
  • parents who fail to attend to their children’s health or development needs
  • children who appear persistently undersized or underweight
  • children who continually appear tired or lacking in energy
  • children who suffer frequent injuries due to lack of supervision.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is the ongoing emotional maltreatment or emotional neglect of a child. It’s sometimes called psychological abuse and can seriously damage a child’s emotional health and development.

Emotional abuse can involve deliberately trying to scare or humiliate a child or isolating or ignoring them.

Children who are emotionally abused are usually suffering another type of abuse or neglect at the same time – but this isn’t always the case.

Child Sexual Exploitation

The sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 occurs when they are induced or coerced into sexual activity in exchange for something they need, want or crave – for example:

  • food
  • accommodation
  • drugs
  • alcohol
  • cigarettes
  • affections
  • gifts or
  • money

“Child sexual exploitation can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition; for example being persuaded to post sexual images on the internet/mobile phones without immediate payment or gain. In all cases those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Violence, coercion and intimidations are common, involvement in exploitative relationships being characterised in the main by the child’s or young person’s limited availability of choice, resulting from their social/economic and/or emotional vulnerability” (DCSF, August 2009).

For more information, see our  Child Sexual Exploitation page for parents.

Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It’s also known as female circumcision, cutting or sunna.

Religious, social or cultural reasons are sometimes given for FGM. However, FGM is child abuse. It’s dangerous and a criminal offence.

There are no medical reasons to carry out FGM. It doesn’t enhance fertility and it doesn’t make childbirth safer. It is used to control female sexuality and can cause severe and long-lasting damage to physical and emotional health.

Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is any type of controlling, bullying, threatening or violent behaviour between people in a relationship. But it isn’t just physical violence – domestic abuse includes any emotional, physical, sexual, financial or psychological abuse.

It can happen in any relationship, and even after the relationship has ended. Both men and women can be abused or abusers.

Persistently witnessing domestic abuse can be a form of child abuse, and teenagers can suffer domestic abuse in their relationships. Domestic abuse can seriously harm children and young people.

The UK Government defines domestic abuse as:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality”.