What is child abuse?

Child abuse is when someone under 18 experiences physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect. 

Who can be a perpetrator of child abuse?

A perpetrator is someone who abuses or neglects their responsibilities when taking care of a child under 18 years of age.  

Perpetrators of child abuse can be parents, siblings, other relatives, caregivers, or guardians. 

Children are never at fault when they experience abuse or neglect. Experiencing abuse can make you feel confused or embarrassed, but there are people who can and will step in to help you.

What is neglect?

Neglect occurs when your parent or caregiver does not provide for your basic needs, even though they have the ability and resources to do so. 

A child's basic needs include the following:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Sleep
  • Education
  • Safety
  • Clothing
  • Medical care
  • Supervision

Neglect can look like a child:

  • Always be hungry
  • Having body odour
  • Taking adult responsibilities, like looking after siblings
  • Being dirty
  • Being tired all the time
  • Asking for or stealing food

What is physical abuse?

Physical abuse is when a child experiences violence that harms their body. 

Physical abuse can look like this:

  • Slapping
  • Punching
  • Beating
  • Shaking
  • Burning
  • Biting
  • Throwing
  • Cutting
  • Using objects like belts to inflict harm

A child who's experiencing physical abuse may:

  • Wear long sleeves/long pants even in warm weather to hide scars 
  • Avoid physical contact with others
  • Show aggression towards others 

What is emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is when a caregiver's actions destroy a child's sense of self-worth. 

Emotional abuse can happen in many ways, including when a caregiver:

  • Has unreasonable demands or expectations of you
  • Constantly criticizes you
  • Teases or insults you
  • Rejects or ignores your needs
  • Yells or swears at you
  • Withholds affection from you

A child who experiences emotional abuse may:

  • Always want affection
  • Fail to gain weight (especially in infants)
  • Have temper tantrums
  • Be either very disobedient or very compliant
  • Bully others
  • Have compulsive habits (biting, rocking, head-banging)
  • Have headaches or stomach aches with no medical cause

What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse is when a caregiver involves a child in any way for their sexual stimulation. 

Sexual abuse is when an adult makes you:

  • Expose your private areas
  • Watches you undress
  • Touches you sexually
  • Sends you inappropriate texts
  • Watch pornographic pictures or videos
  • Forces you to do sexual acts
  • Takes inappropriate pictures of you 

A child who experiences sexual abuse may:

  • Be afraid of the dark
  • Wet the bed
  • Have frequent sore throats or urinary infections
  • Suck their thumb

Who can I turn to if I experience child abuse?

It's important to talk about what you're going through and ask for help from someone trustworthy. It can be hard to trust people if you've experienced any kind of neglect or abuse. 

Try to think of an adult who has been kind to you and has not done any of the abovementioned things to abuse or neglect you. You could turn to another relative or your friends' parents. 

If there is no one you feel safe talking to in your personal life, go to a teacher, health care professional (like a doctor or nurse), counselor, social worker, youth worker, or religious figure (like a priest or imam). Even if you don't have a strong relationship with them, they are trained professionals and have a legal duty to get you help. 

Whatever you decide to do, you should keep in mind that:

  • It's not your fault, and you don't deserve it
  • You're not alone. There are people who want to help, including those who've been through the same things as you and survived.
  • It's okay to have complicated feelings. When you're ready and feel safe, you can start understanding those feelings and feeling better.   


If you or someone you know is experiencing or showing signs of child abuse, call 911 if it's an emergency.

You can also call:

  • Canada Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453
  • Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or text the word “CONNECT” to 686868
  • First Nations & Inuit Children, Youth, & Young Adults 24-hour Toll-free Help Line at 1-855-242-3310
  • Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010
  • Connex Ontario Addiction, Mental Health, and Problem Gambling Treatment Services at 1-866-531-2600
  • Ontario 211 for programs and services in your community 

Little Warriors also has a big list of resources in Ontario for anyone experiencing child abuse.