About Child Abuse

What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is an epidemic that plagues all communities in North Carolina and transcends all demographics. While abuse can take many forms and looks different in each scenario it is generally broken down into four categories, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and Neglect or may be referred to collectively as child maltreatment. North Carolina law defines an abused child as a child who sustains serious injury or the substantial risk of serious injury, serious emotional damage, or exploitation by a parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker (North Carolina G.S. 7B-101).

A child is considered abused if his or her parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker does any of the following or allows another person to do so:

  • Causes serious physical injury to the child that does not happen by accident
  • Creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to the child, other than by accident
  • Uses cruel or grossly inappropriate discipline on the child
  • Commits sex crimes against the child or permits or encourages the child to commit sex crimes or participate in sex crimes
  • Causes serious emotional damage to the child
  • Commits a crime of human trafficking, involuntary servitude, or sexual servitude against the child
  • Encourages or approves of delinquent behavior that involves immoral acts by the child

There are varying types of child abuse and neglect, each with its own unique characteristics. Children also may experience the co-occurrence of multiple forms of maltreatment, such as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as well as neglect, which together may affect them to a greater extent. While children may experience any type of maltreatment at any age, younger children are more likely than older children to experience neglect and some forms of physical abuse. Older children are more likely to experience sexual abuse, with pre-teens and adolescents being at greatest risk for commercial sexual exploitation. Although abuse and neglect can occur in any type of home, the risk is heightened by poverty, and by high levels of violence and substance abuse.

Types of Abuse

For more information on each type of abuse please use the link below:

Recognizing Child Abuse

Each child is unique so the signs and symptoms of child abuse can be present in some, but not all cases. While some children may not show any of the below signs, please use the following as a guideline.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Sudden changes in behavior

    could appear scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn or more aggressive; is overly compliant, an overachiever or too responsible; is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen

  • Regression to earlier behaviors

    may display behaviors shown at earlier ages, such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark or strangers, loss of language skills, memory problems; learning problems that cannot be attributed to a specific physical or psychological causes

  • Fear of going home or to previously trusted places

    may express apprehension or anxiety about leaving school or going places with the person who is abusing them; may come to school early and stay late; seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home from school; shrinks at the approach of adults

  • Changes in eating

    stress, fear and anxiety can lead to changes in eating behaviors, resulting in weight gain or loss

  • Changes in sleeping

    may have frequent nightmares or have difficulty falling asleep, resulting in tiredness or fatigue

  • Sudden changes in school performance and attendance

    may have difficulty concentrating in school or have excessive absences, sometimes due to adults trying to hide the child’s injuries from authorities; has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school

  • Lack of personal care or hygiene

    may appear uncared for; may be consistently dirty and have severe body odor, or lack sufficient clothing for the weather

  • Risk-taking behaviors

    may engage in high-risk activities such as using drugs or alcohol or carrying a weapon

  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors

    may exhibit overly sexualized behavior or use explicit sexual language that is inconsistent with their age

  • Unexplained injuries

    as unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones or black eyes; has bruises or marks in non-prominent, “fleshy” areas of the body (for example, inside of biceps or behind the knees); has not received medical attention for a physical injury that has been brought to the parents' attention; visible signs of physical abuse may be present however it is extremely uncommon in most sexual abuse incidents

Reporting Child Abuse

If a child is in immediate danger, CALL 911.

North Carolina is a Mandated Reporting State. If you are AWARE or HAVE REASON TO BELIEVE that a child is the victim of child maltreatment, North Carolina law REQUIRES that you report what you know to both local law enforcement where the crime occurred (North Carolina G.S. 14-318.6) and the Department of Social Services (North Carolina G.S. 7B-301) where the child resides.

What to Expect

Please use this as a guideline. Every situation is unique and will be treated as the professionals involved deem it necessary, in the best interest of the child.

  • Before You Report

    Every child is unique and so is the process taken to protect them. The following should be used as a guideline.

    • FIND a safe place for the child
    • LISTEN to the child
    • DO NOT try to investigate
    • DO NOT confront the abuser
    • MAKE a report
  • Making a Report

    To find the numbers to your local reporting agencies please refer to our map.

    View Map

    When you make a report to local law enforcement or DSS, the operator will listen to your report and ask questions to gather information, including:

    • the name, age, and address of the juvenile
    • the name and address of the juvenile's parent, guardian, or caretaker
    • the names and ages of other juveniles in the home
    • the present whereabouts of the juvenile if not at the home address
    • the nature and extent of any injury or condition resulting from abuse, neglect, or dependency
    • any other information which the person believes might be helpful

    Keep in mind that you do not have to have all the above information to call. You may call back when you get more information.

  • After you call

    The Police Department and/or Department of Social Services will coordinate to determine the best plan of protection to the victim and under what time frame. DSS and/or the police investigator may make a home visit to interview members of the household to gather further information.

    If deemed appropriate to proceed with an interview and medical exam, a referral to the Child Advocacy Center that services the area in which the abuse was committed will be made.