What are the signs of abuse?

How do I know if my friend is being abused? 

Although the following signs do not necessarily mean your friend is being abused, it is important to tell a trusted adult if you think they are showing a number of these signs so that someone can help to find out if they need help.  Your school or college should have a trained child protection officer who can talk through any concerns with you.

If you are worried about the way you are treated or worried about someone else you can call Childline 0800 1111 or visit our help and advice pages.

Sexual abuse

Signs of sexual abuse may include: 

  • talking a lot about sex and giving detailed descriptions.  Your friend may appear to know more about sex or sexual activities than you or your other friends the same age;
  • becoming depressed and  talking about harming themselves in some way;
  • running away or talking about running away from home;
  • having personality changes such as becoming insecure or clinging;
  • spending a lot of time alone and not 'joining in' with groups of friends;
  • appearing a lot younger than they are - behaving like a 'baby' i.e. sucking their thumb or carrying around a cuddly toy;
  • having a sudden loss of appetite or overeating;
  • suddenly starting to draw sexually detailed pictures;
  • not allowing anyone to touch them.

Physical abuse

Signs of physical abuse may include:

  • unexplained injuries or burns;
  • making up stories or refusing to explain their injuries;
  • wearing a lot of clothes i.e. long sleeved tops; even in hot weather;
  • not wanting to be watched undressing for PE or avoiding sports lessons;
  • talking about running away;
  • fear of doctors examination;
  • aggressive or violent towards others;
  • not wanting anyone to touch them;
  • talking a lot about being punished at home for small problems such as not doing the washing up properly;
  • being worried or afraid about people talking to their parents/ carers or family.

Emotional abuse

Signs of emotional abuse may include:

  • delays surrounding physical, mental and emotional development;
  • unusual difficulties in communicating or talking;
  • putting themselves down constantly (i.e. I am stupid, ugly, worthless);
  • overreaction to mistakes, punishing themselves if they get things wrong;
  • extreme fear of any new situation;
  • saying they deserve pain or bad things to happen to them;
  • unusual behaviour i.e. rocking on chairs, hair twisting, self-harm;
  • having no interest in anything or anyone;
  • becoming aggressive;
  • being pushed to be the best in school and sports beyond what they can or want to do.


Signs of neglect may include: 

  • lack of food;
  • poor personal hygiene;
  • constant tiredness;
  • poor state of clothing i.e. holes in clothes, old or dirty clothes;
  • extreme loss of weight, or weight gain;
  • constantly asking for things like food money;
  • not having anything of their own in class i.e. books pens etc.

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