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About abuse

Key messages

Key messages for all

  • Abuse is unacceptable and is a crime.
  • Abuse can take a number of forms, all of which can be damaging to the victim.
  • Abuse is never the victim’s fault.
  • No one deserves to be abused.

Key messages for adults

  • Everyone in schools and the school community has a responsibility to help prevent the abuse of children.
  • Students can be taught the skills, knowledge and attitudes that will help them recognise, avoid and report abuse.
  • Teaching children only about danger from strangers makes it easier for people known to a child to abuse them.
  • Reports of abuse must be listened to and acted on.
  • Students need ongoing abuse prevention education throughout their schooling.
  • Schools must have effective abuse prevention policies and protocols.

Child abuse

The World Health Organisation has defined child maltreatment as:

All forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.

Five types of abuse

There are five types of child maltreatment or abuse.

Physical abuse is non-accidental injury. This can be caused by smacking, punching, kicking, shaking, biting, burning or throwing the child. The injuries to the child may vary in severity and range from minor bruising, welts or bite marks, major fractures of the long bones or skull, to, in its most extreme form, the death of a child.

Sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activities they do not fully understand and to which they are unable to give informed consent. Examples include indecent exposure, sexual intercourse (anal or vaginal), sexual harassment, involving children in pornographic activities or prostitution, penetration of a child’s vagina or anus with fingers or objects, and oral sex.

Emotional abuse is when the child’s emotional and physical development is restricted because of the way the child is treated by adults. Examples include verbal abuse, denigration, active rejection, lack of love and support.

Neglect is when the basic survival needs of the child are not being met. Examples include withholding food, not providing adequate shelter or clothing, depriving the child of medical or dental care, not providing love or security.

Family harm is adults hurting children, or adults hurting other adults. This is of particular concern for children, both as victims and as witnesses. It is not just physical violence like slapping, shaking, beating or hitting. It’s throwing things, constant shouting and swearing, put-downs, any threatening or controlling behaviour – all the things that make children frightened or scared.

(Adapted from Protecting Our Children is Everyone’s Business, the Campaign for Action on Family Violence. See

Keeping safe in cyberspace

The significant changes to technology and the way it is used present new challenges for schools in creating an environment where teachers and students are confident in the safe and secure use of online technologies. Students need to build the skills and knowledge to effectively manage cyber challenges and become confident and successful digital citizens.

Online hazards include:

  • exposure to inappropriate or illegal material
  • disclosure of personal information that may place students or their families at risk of fraud, burglary or other crimes
  • younger children may copy older siblings who are involved in inappropriate activities
  • cyberbullying and harassment
  • contact from people who mean to harm children and young people.

Support services

Netsafe Schools supports schools to establish, develop and promote online safety, citizenship and wellbeing in their school community. Their website is a hub of content about all cybersafety topics, including social networking and cyberbullying.

Censorship Compliance division of the Department of Internal Affairs handles complaints about objectionable material under the Film, Videos and Publication Classification Act 1993, including illegal pornography. Their website also has information on classifications and online safety.

How does abuse affect children?

Abused children find it hard to concentrate at school. Often they are anxious, depressed, or hostile, and sometimes they behave in sexually inappropriate ways. They may be less mature than their peers and show physical signs of abuse and neglect.

In later life, child abuse may lead to sadness and anger, a sense of isolation and stigma, problems in trusting people and creating relationships and, at times, self-destructive behaviour. There may also be a link between child abuse and adolescent depression and suicide.

A very high proportion of child abusers were themselves abused as children.

Abusers typically make their victims feel guilty and responsible for what happens, thus making it all the more difficult to break the abuse cycle.

Youth offenders must be identified and given professional help, to prevent them becoming repeat offenders.

Victims of abuse must be identified and given professional help, to prevent them from being victimised again.

Reporting abuse

If you believe that any child or young person has been, or is likely to be harmed, ill-treated, abused, neglected or deprived you should report this.

A suspicion is enough for action, because intuition and gut feelings are often right. The most important consideration is always the safety and wellbeing of the child or young person.

The Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 states that anyone who believes a child or young person has been, or is likely to be, harmed, ill-treated, abused (whether physically, emotionally or sexually), neglected, or deprived; or who has concerns about the wellbeing of a child or young person, may report the matter to a social worker or a member of Police.

They will be protected, provided the information they give has been given in good faith. The Oranga Tamariki member or Police member is required to undertake an investigation if that is shown to be necessary.