Search Google Appliance

Sexual and Physical Abuse and Neglect

August 8, 2013 by HealthyFamilies BC

young girl hugging father

Child abuse has lasting effects and comes in many forms - including neglect and exposure to violence between adults in the home.  

Everyone who spends time with children shares responsibility for keeping them safe, so it's good to know the risks and impacts of abuse.

Any kind of child maltreatment can affect early brain development. Extreme stress can also harm the development of young children's nervous and immune systems. Children who experience abuse may develop learning difficulties, mental disorders, anxiety and behavioural problems such as hyperactivity or lack of emotional control.

Abuse and neglect also increase the risk for health problems later in life, including alcoholism, depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, obesity, sexual promiscuity, smoking, suicide and certain chronic diseases.

Physical Abuse

Children who experience physical violence often suffer injuries including cuts, bruises, burns, and broken bones. Child abuse can also result in the following behaviours:

  • Being afraid or reluctant to go home, or running away
  • Unusual aggression, rages or tantrums
  • Avoiding touch or flinching when touched
  • Withdrawing from family, friends and activities they use to enjoy.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse includes obvious sexual acts such as intercourse, fondling or any form of sexual touching. It also includes less direct actions, such as exposing genitals to a child, watching children when they're naked or showing them pornography. Like other forms of child abuse, sexual abuse is a criminal activity. It's very different from normal sexual play between children of the same age.

Most sexual abuse of children is by someone they know. Toddlers are too young to effectively protect themselves.

Be sure your child is safe by:

  • Always knowing where he is.
  • Making sure she's cared for by someone you fully trust
  • Being aware of who may be around him when he's in someone else's care.
  • Encouraging her to tell you if she's not comfortable with someone.

Children who experience sexual abuse often have behaviour changes, such as:

  • Fear or dislike of certain people or places
  • Regressed behaviors depending on their age (e.g., return to thumb-sucking or bed-wetting)
  • Reluctance to be left alone with a particular person or people
  • Advanced sexual knowledge, language, and/or behaviors that are unusual and inappropriate for their age
  • Depression or anxiety 
  • An increase in nightmares and/or other sleeping difficulties

If you believe your toddler has been sexually abused, contact the police.


Children experience neglect when the parent or other caregiver does not provide for their basic needs such as food, shelter, basic health care, supervision or protection from risks. This can lead to harm of physical health, development or safety.

Protect your toddler from all forms of abuse and neglect by providing a stable, loving, nurturing environment. If you or your children are experiencing violence, get help right away. In case of emergency, call 9-1-1 or the operator and ask for the police.

Did You Know?

Children can also experience abuse by seeing or hearing their mother or other caregiver being harmed. This is traumatizing. Special services are available in many B.C communities for children who witness abuse.

Resources & Links:
HealthLink BC: Domestic Violence
HealthLink BC: Child Abuse and Neglect
HealthLink BC: Coping Strategies to Avoid Harming a Baby
HealthLink BC: Sexual Abuse or Assault (Rape)


  1. Activity & Lifestyles
  2. Aging Well
  3. Pregnancy & Parenting
    1. Pregnancy & Birth
    2. Babies (0-12 months)
    3. Toddlers (12-36 months)
    4. Preschool (3-5 years)
    5. Children (6-11 years)
    6. Teens (12-18 years)
  4. Food & Nutrition

HealthyFamilies BC Tools

Breastfeeding Buddy

Breastfeeding Buddy


Sodium Sense

Sodium Sense


Your Virtual Shopping Tour

Shopping Sense


How Much Sugar Are You Drinking?

Sugary Drink Sense