Many adults are uncomfortable talking with children who have questions about child abuse and are unsure of how to tackle the topic. Some children may have heard something and are curious and unfortunately, others may be victims themselves. The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) in the United States of America, suggests language appropriate for communicating effectively with children about this sensitive subject.

The aim is to answer children’s questions in a way that they can understand without frightening or confusing them. It is important to not assume that a child will behave or react in any way. Every situation that involves child abuse is different, each child will respond differently. Simply being able to respond to such questions may provide the support a child needs. Then establishing when further help is required. 

The following questions children may ask, and the answers provided are taken from the OVC: Tips for Talking to Children About Child Abuse

“What is child abuse?”

Child abuse is when an adult hurts a child on purpose. Hitting, constant yelling, or unwanted touching can all be defined as child abuse. If someone is hurting you or making you uncomfortable, ask the person to stop or leave and tell someone you trust about what happened.

 • Physical abuse is when an adult hurts a child by hitting, shaking, choking, burning, pinching, beating, or any other action that causes pain or injury. If you are physically abused, you may notice cuts, bruises, or other marks on your body. 

Emotional abuse is when an adult hurts a child by always yelling at the child, threatening to leave, or saying mean things. If you are emotionally abused, you may feel like you are all alone and that no one cares about you. 

Sexual abuse is when an adult or someone older than a child touches the private parts of a child’s body or has a child touch the older person’s private parts. Private parts are the parts covered by bathing suits or underwear. It is also sexual abuse if an adult shows a child pictures or movies of people without their clothes on or takes these types of pictures of a child. If someone is sexually abusing you, you may feel uncomfortable, scared, or confused. 

Neglect is when an adult does not give the food, care, and place to live that a child needs. If you are neglected, you may not have clean clothes, a bed to sleep in, or medicine when you are sick. 

“Who abuses kids?” 

Some kids are abused by strangers, but most are abused by someone they know: a parent or stepparent, another relative, a babysitter, a teacher, or an older kid. Abuse can happen to all kinds of kids, no matter where they live or how much money their families have. It can happen just about anywhere at home, school, day care, or the playground. 

“Why would someone abuse a kid?”

 Most adults care about kids and never hurt them. It can be hard to believe that someone you love or someone who is nice can hurt you or other kids, but some adults lose their tempers or can’t control the way they act. Drinking alcohol or using drugs can also make it hard for some people to control how they act. An adult who hurts children has a problem and needs to get help to stop.

“Is it my fault that this happened to me?”

 No. No matter what, abuse is never your fault, and you don’t deserve it. It’s normal to feel upset, angry, and confused when someone hurts you. But don’t blame yourself or worry that others will be angry with you. Even if you think you’ve done something wrong, that does not make it okay for someone to hurt you. All kids deserve to have adults in their lives who love and support them as they grow up.

 “How can I stop it?”

 If you think that you are being abused, the bravest and most important thing you can do is tell someone you trust. Never keep it a secret, even if the person hurting you tells you that something bad will happen if you tell. Trusting someone after you’ve been hurt can be hard to do. If you can’t trust anyone at home, talk to someone at school (like a teacher, counsellor, or school nurse) or a friend’s mum or dad. And if that person cannot help you, keep telling until you get the help you need to feel safe. 

“What will happen to the person who hurt me if I tell?” 

An adult who hurts children needs special help to learn to stop. While this person is getting help, you may see less of him or her. This may be tough for you, especially if that person is a part of your family. Your whole family may need help too.

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Stef Gafa’ is a counsellor with Willingness who has a particular interest in trauma, attachment, domestic violence and the LGBT community.