Types of Abuse

Abuse comes in many different forms.
  • If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected call:1-866-363-4276  
  • Please call 911 if the child is in immediate danger.
The arrows below will guide you to information on each subject:

Washington State definition on Child Abuse

How the Law Defines Child Abuse

Child Abuse:  In Washington State, RCW 26.44.020 (1) defines abuse and neglect as injury, assault, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child under circumstances which indicate that the child's health, welfare, and/or safety is harmed. ​​​​​​​*https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=26.44.020​​​​​​​

Physical Abuse

PHYSICAL ABUSE : Unreasonable actions used to correct or restrain a child. Use of force; throwing, kicking, burning, or cutting a child, striking a child with closed fist, shaking a child under age three, interfering with a child's breathing, threatening a child with a deadly weapon, doing any other act that is likely to cause and/or which does cause bodily harm greater than transient pain or minor temporary marks. The age, size, and condition of the child and the location of the injury shall be considered when determining whether the bodily harm is reasonable or moderate. This list is illustrative of unreasonalbe actions and is not intended to be exclusive.

Physical discipline of a child is not considered abuse as long as it is reasonable and moderate as defined in RCW 9A.16.100.

Any use of force on a child by any persons other than the child's parent, guardian, or teacher is unlawful unless it is reasonable and moderate and is also authorized in advance by the child's parent, or guardian.


Emotional Abuse

EMOTIONAL ABUSE​​​​​​​​​​​​​​: A child who has been injured mentally is one who sustains damage to intellectual, psychological, emotional or psychological functioning which is clearly attributable
to the non-accidental acts or omissions of the parent or guardian.

Examples of a parental or caretaker behaviors include a pattern of rejecting, isolating, ignoring, corrupting or terrorizing a child.


Sexual Abuse

SEXUAL ABUSE:​​​​​​​ There is a wide range of offenses defined in the Washington state criminal code involving children that constitute sexual abuse such as: any form of inappropriate sexual behavior with a child; this could include: fondling, touching, indecent liberties, communication with a minor for immoral purposes, sexual exploitation of a minor, sex trafficking of children for sexual purposes, child molestation, sexual misconduct with a minor, rape of a child and intended rape.


Sexual exploitation is one element of the definition of sexual abuse. This includes allowing the child to engage in sexual acts, prostitution, sex trafficking or the production of child pornography.

Sexual Exploitation: For more information on how to protect children from the dangers of the internet please visit: 



NEGLECT :​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ Negligent treatment or maltreatment (a dangerous act) is that which constitutes a clear and present danger to the child’s health, welfare, and safety such as:
  • Failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, emotional nurturing or health care;
  • Failure to provide adequate supervision in relation to a child’s level of development;
  • An act of abandonment;
  • An act of exploitation;
  • An act of reckless endangerment;
  • Other dangerous acts such as hitting, kicking, throwing, choking a child or
    shaking an infant.
Neglect is further defined in RCW 26-44-020 (17).

Common Indicators of Abuse

The following are common indicators of abuse
The presence of an indicator does not prove child abuse is occurring; however, if you repeatedly or in combination notice these signs please take a closer look, consider the possibility of child abuse and report it. 

*The Child:
  • has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school
  • is frightened of the parent/guardian and protests or cries when its time to go home
  • shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • has not received help for physical, medical or learning problems brought to the parents' attention
  • shinks at the approach of adults
  • reports an injury by a parent or adult caregiver
  • lacks appropriate adult supervision
  • is reluctant to be around a particular person
  • Discloses maltreatment
*The Parent:
  • offers conflicting, unconvincing, or non explanations for childs injury
  • denies the existence of - or blames the child for- the child's problems in school or home
  • describes or views the child as bad, worthless, burdensome or with a negative view
  • uses harsh physical discipline with the child
  • demands a level of physical or academic performance that child cannot achieve
  • shows little concern for the child
  • asks teachers or other caretakers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves
  • looks to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs

*The Parent and The Child
  • Rarely touch or look at one another
  • Consider their relationship entirely negative
  • State consistently they do not like each other

This list is not all inclusive/not a fully comprehensive list of the signs of abuse and neglect.

*Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2019). What is child abuse and neglect? Recognizing the signs and symptoms. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.
**information taken from the Washington State Attorney General Website at: https://www.atg.wa.gov/child-abuse-neglect  The Child Welfare Information Gateway at: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/responding/reporting/how/  and the Washington State Department of Children Youth and Families website at: https://www.dcyf.wa.gov/safety/report-abuse.
Please visit each website for more helpful information and resources on abuse.

Resources for More Information

Read more on the Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect, get information on resources available to you, and find out about policies & prevention by visiting the websites listed below:

►Looking for prevention information? Check out our Educate & Engage page for resources and tips for prevention.

Kids Tip Sheet: How you can help someone who is being abused or neglected

► View and Download the Kids Tip Sheet: "How You can help Someone who is being Abused or Neglected". A fact sheet from the Child Welfare Information Gateway that provides helpful information on what child abuse is, and how to help someone that they are concerned about.

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2018). How you can help someone who is being abused or neglected. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.

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Suggested Citation: Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2018). How you can help someone who is being abused or neglected. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.

This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway

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