Message from the Chief Commissioner

Crime Prevention & Community Safety

Child abuse

Release date: Wed 5 September 2007

Last updated: Mon 25 February 2013

Child abuse is a crime which receives a specialist response from police. It has a long lasting effect on victims, their families and the community and crosses all socio-economic and cultural barriers. Victoria Police is committed to providing the highest level of service to all victims regardless of age, gender, cultural background or impairment. The response needs to provide the best possible outcomes for the child.

Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Units are staffed by experienced and qualified police who are specially trained to assist with responding to allegations of child abuse.

What is child abuse?

Child abuse is an act of omission that endangers a child's physical or emotional health or development. By definition, abuse is not an accident, but neither is it always the intention of the person to inflict harm or injury.

Child abuse can involve any of the following:

Physical abuse
Physical abuse consists of any non-accidental form of injury or serious harm inflicted on a child by any person. It may include beating, shaking, burning and assault with weapons. Physical injury and significant harm to a child may also result from neglect by a parent or carer.

Sexual abuse
A child is sexually abused when any person uses their authority or power over a child to engage in sexual activity. Sexual activity may include fondling genitals, masturbation, oral sex, vaginal or anal penetration by finger, penis or any other object, voyeurism and exhibitionism. It can also include exploitation through pornography or prostitution.

Emotional abuse
Emotional abuse occurs when a child is repeatedly rejected, isolated or frightened by threats or the witnessing of family violence. It also includes hostility, derogatory name calling and put-downs, or persistent coldness from a person, to the extent where the behaviour of the child is disturbed or their emotional development is at serious risk of being impaired.

Neglect includes a failure to provide the child with an adequate standard of nutrition, medical care, clothing, shelter or supervision to the extent where the health and development of the child are significantly impaired or placed at risk. A child is neglected if left uncared for over long periods of time or abandoned. Neglect of medical care refers to a situation where a parent or caregiver's refusal to agree to a certain medical procedure may be determined to be an unacceptable deprivation of the child's basic rights to life or health.

Accumulated harm
The harm may be constituted by a single act, omission or circumstance, or accumulate through a series of continuing acts, omissions or circumstances.

Reporting and seeking help

  • If a situation is life threatening contact police on Triple Zero '000'.
  • For immediate concerns about the safety of a child, contact the Department of Human Services Child Protection Crisis Line by telephone on 13 12 78.
  • To discuss concerns about child abuse contact your local police station
  • Resources and publications

For more information and resources for victim and family support, visit the links on the right side of this page.

Top of Page
Victoria Police Centre 637 Flinders Street Melbourne 3005 | Ph 03 9247 6666 | Fax 03 9247 5727
Copyright © 2005 State of Victoria. All rights reserved.