Child abuse happens more often than you might think. But how is it
characterized, and what can you do if you suspect that a child is at
"Abuse is an epidemic problem," says Mary Pulido, executive
director of The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Children. It's different from neglect, which is the absence of attention
and care from a parent or guardian -- like when children are left alone
in a car or not getting the medicines they need. Abuse is on the
opposite side of the continuum, when a parent or guardian is
intentionally hurting a child.
Although Pulido notes that sometimes
it's difficult to distinguish whether an injury comes from playing or
from abuse, she says that there are ways you can tell if something is
"[Abuse] is not a one-shot deal, usually," Pulido says. "You're going to see bruises in different stages of healing," she says.
Where the child is bruised is another consideration.
you fall, it's usually on the palms of your hands and knees," Pulido
says. "Injuries on the arms or stomach are suspicious."
For infants, any injury requires further inquiry.
When the signs of abuse are not physically clear, such as is the case with sexual or emotional abuse, a child's behavior is the biggest indicator. According to Pulido, if a child becomes withdrawn, sad, anxious or angry, it could be a sign of abuse.
"It's difficult to detect, but if there's physical abuse happening, most children are probably being abused emotionally, too," she says.
How to report abuse
If you see a child being abused on the street, or hear a child screaming in pain, call 911.
"Police are trained to respond to sensitive calls," Pulido says.
If, as a concerned friend or neighbor, you have a suspicion that a child is being abused, call the child abuse hotline. Every state has an abuse hotline.
"You're going to be anxious while making the report," Pulido says. "[But] it's very important that you're doing it. Due to your intervention, you can be saving a life."
The hotline will ask for your name and number, but you are not required to give it.
"The important thing is to make the call," Pulido says. "You're taking a stand to help solve the problem."
Follow Mary Ann Georgantopoulos on Twitter @marygeorgant