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York County Children's Advocacy Center
South Queen Street
York, PA

(717) 718-4253

York County Children's Advocacy Center - About Child Abuse

About Child Abuse

What is child abuse?
Child abuse may include neglect or emotional, physical, sexual harm to a child. The abuse can happen in many different ways, but the result is the same - serious physical or emotional harm. Physical or sexual abuse may be the most emotional types of abuse since this type of abuse often leaves physical evidence behind. Sexual abuse of children is a harsh fact of life and is more common than most people realize.

How to respond to disclosure of child abuse

  1. Remain calm. A child may take back information (recant) or stop talking if he/she senses a strong reaction.
  2. Listen without passing judgment. Most children know their abusers and often feel confused and conflicted by abuse.
  3. Tell the child you are glad that he/she told someone.
  4. Assure the child that the abuse is not his/her fault.
  5. Do what you can to make certain that the child is safe from further abuse.
  6. Do not investigate the situation yourself. Call police (911) or local child protective services (PA Childline 800-932-0313 or York County Office of Children Youth & Families 845-8496)

Child sexual abuse is:

  • Any sexual act between an adult and a minor or between two minors when one exerts power over the other.
  • When any adult engages in sexual activity with a child.
    • forcing, coercing or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act
    • fondling a child's genitals
    • masturbation
    • getting the child to fondle an adult's genitals
    • oral genital contact
    • actual penetration of the child's vagina or anus
    • non-sexual contact acts such as exhibitionism or exposure to pornography

A central characteristic of any abuse is the dominant position of an adult that allows him or her to force or coerce a child into sexual activity.

Who sexually abuses children?

People who sexually abuse children are likely to be people we know, and could even be people we care about. Anyone having close contact with our children:

  • fathers
  • mothers
  • step-parents
  • paramours
  • grandparents
  • other family members (aunts, uncles, cousins)
  • neighbors
  • babysitters
  • teachers
  • coaches
  • clergy

What are signs and symptoms of sexual child abuse?
Children are routinely taught to speak up if someone approaches them in a sexual way. To make our community safe, adults must act on their commitment to keep our children safe by learning to recognize and respond to inappropriate behaviors around children before a child is harmed. Look for things such as:

  • personality changes such as becoming insecure or clinging
  • regressing to younger behavior patterns such as thumb sucking or bringing out discarded cuddly toys
  • sudden loss of appetite or compulsive eating
  • isolated or withdrawn
  • inability to concentrate
  • lack of trust or fear of someone they know well, such as not wanting to be alone with a babysitter
  • bed-wetting
  • day or nightmares
  • worried about clothing being removed
  • being overly affectionate or knowledgeable in a sexual way inappropriate to the child's age
  • suddenly drawing sexually explicit pictures
  • medical problems such as chronic itching, pain in the genitals, venereal disease

Protecting Your Child Against Child Abuse.

  • educate your child; teach your child how to protect against abuse by learning about the difference between okay touch and touch that is not okay, and not keeping secrets
  • understand the long-term effects of child abuse
  • take responsibility; watch for any inappropriate behaviors in other adults or older youth because younger children are not as able to recognize the behaviors or to protect themselves
  • speak up when you see any inappropriate behaviors; be aware of your legal responsibility to report suspected abuse
  • report anything you know or suspect might be sexual abuse; if you do not speak up the abuse will not stop


One of the most painful effects of child abuse is its tendency to repeat itself. One of every three abused children will grow up to become an abusive parent. You may be reluctant to interfere in someone's family, but you can make a huge difference in a child's life if you do. The earlier abused children get help, the greater chance they have to heal from their abuse and not perpetuate the cycle.

Know the agencies that handle reports of child abuse:

  • Child Protective Services (York County Children and Youth Services)
  • The police department in the jurisdiction where the abuse occurred