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Child Abuse

What is child abuse?

Broadly speaking, child abuse is about an adult harming a child. In the Northern Territory the law states that a child is a person under the age of 18 years.

Child abuse can occur through someone doing something harmful or by someone not doing something to provide for, or to protect a child.

Reporting child abuse and neglect

In the Northern Territory every person is required to report suspected child abuse and neglect. The purpose of imposing a legal obligation on people to report suspected child abuse and neglect to the department, is to protect children/young people from further harm.  Child abuse can be prevented. Identification and reporting of child abuse
are the beginnings of intervention and prevention of such abuse.  By protecting the child/young person and helping the family, future abuse can be reduced, even eliminated.

Reports can be made to the 24 hour toll free number 1800 700 250

This booklet provides information for professionals reporting child abuse and neglect. 

There are four types of child abuse

Physical abuse

This is when a child's body is hurt or injured. This can be through punching, hitting, beating, shaking, biting, burning or any actions which result in a child's body being harmed. It can be seen in bruising, swellings, welts, broken bones and in extreme cases, death.

Is physical punishment child abuse?

This is a common question without a nice neat answer. Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes physical punishment can go too far and crosses the line from being 'reasonable' and 'moderate' and causes a child's body to be injured (from mild bruising to death). In the Northern Territory the 'Common Law' allows physical punishment as long as it is 'reasonable' and 'moderate'. Over the years judges have decided what this means on each case. It is fair to say that there are different views about what is, or is not, 'reasonable' and 'moderate' physical punishment. When we remind ourselves that it is against the law to hit or hurt an adult (assault) - why can it be okay to do the same to a child who is smaller and vulnerable? It helps to put yourself in your child's shoes and think about what it would feel like. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: "Would I like someone to do this to me?" ;"Will what I'm doing really make a difference to the behaviour?" ;"Am I letting go of my own frustrations on my child?"

Emotional abuse

This occurs when an adult's behaviour towards a child happens repeatedly and causes the child to feel frightened, ashamed, upset, alone and have low selfworth. Such behaviours include: constantly criticising, teasing, belittling or 'putting down' a child constantly shouting and screaming at a child ignoring and refusing to help or accept a child calling a child by degrading names and shaming the child in front of others threatening to physically punish a child or abandon them exposing a child to domestic violence encouraging a child to engage in criminal activitiesconstantly ignoring a child and refusing to show affection withdrawing love or threatening to do so.

When children experience these behaviours, they feel unlovable, worthless and lack self-confidence. They are likely to have trouble forming positive relationships with other children or adults. Emotional abuse also occurs when a child is being physically or sexually abused.

Neglect

This occurs when a parent is unable or unwilling to provide for a child so that the child can develop normally. A child can be neglected in the following ways: when a child does not have enough food,clothing is not clean, does not have a place to live; when a child is not provided with the necessary medical, dental and/or other health care including not providing medication for health conditions; when young children are left alone, not adequately supervised, or when parents fail to remove dangerous things from their environment or do not watch them closely,particularly in dangerous circumstances; constantly ignoring a child's need for attention and how they feel or failing to spend time and listen to a child; failing to send a child to school and/or not providing them with learning opportunities; abandoning a child (by not organising the necessary care for them).

Sexual abuse

This involves a child in sexual activity. Sexual abuse includes sexual suggestions, exhibitionism, showing pornography, inappropriate touching in private parts of the body, masturbation, oral sex and penetration of the genital or anal areas with an object, penis or any other part of the body. Sexual abuse can also include commercial sexual exploitation of a child which might involve enticing a child to be involved in a sexual activity or be photographed for money or other reward. It is not uncommon for a person who sexually harms an adult partner to do the same to children in the house.

Child sexual abuse includes touching which is of a sexual nature and this should not be confused with caring touch that is essential for a child's healthy growth and development.

Who abuses children?

People from a wide range of groups. There is nothing about them that makes them look different from anybody else. They can be people who have easy access to children and are often in a position where they have the trust of a child. They can be parents, grandparents, defacto or steppartners, older brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, neighbours, teachers, childcare workers, babysitters or leaders in organisations such as sporting clubs and churches.

One of the most damaging things about child abuse is that it is usually done by a person whom the child knows and trusts.

Most people who abuse children do not see themselves as abusers or what they do as abusive. In fact, many people who abuse children wrongly argue that it was for the child's own good or that it was a helpful learning part of the child's upbringing. Parents, especially, often say they do not mean to hurt their child whom they love and many are filled with remorse and guilt afterwards.

Pedophiles (child molesters) are people who are sexually 'turned on' by children. They knowingly seek out and perform sexual acts with children or young people for their own pleasure. Sometimes they believe that if they are not violent or openly forceful towards the child, then they are not being abusive. They often believe that if the child does not resist then the child is consenting (or agreeing). Most pedophiles know they are breaking the law. There are many people who harm children without deliberately setting out to do so but there is never any excuse for abusing a child.

Adapted from material prepared for the Families Website by Parenting SA Government South Australia, 2004. For more information visit the Parent Tip Sheets.

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