VicPol Corporate

What is child abuse?

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 whatever their age, gender, cultural background, health or disability status. Importantly the police response aims to provide the best possible outcomes for any child.

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

Cumulative harm

Cumulative harm refers to the negative effect that, a series of abusive experiences or ongoing neglectful circumstances, can have upon child's well-being.

Is this illegal? Am I a victim?

Child abuse in any form is a criminal offence and should be reported. Children who are suffering from abuse together with their families, may require assistance from child protection services, the criminal justice system and counselling and support services. No one group can totally meet the needs of an abused child.

Reporting child abuse

Do I have to report?

Reporting child sexual abuse is a community-wide responsibility. Accordingly, there is a criminal offence in Victoria that imposes a clear legal duty upon all adults to report information about child sexual abuse to police.

Any adult who forms a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed by an adult against a child under 16 has an obligation to report that information to police. Failure to disclose the information to police is a criminal offence.

For further information on the criminal offence and what constitutes reasonable belief visit the Department of Justice – Failure to disclose offence

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

In an emergency call Triple Zero (000)

For more information see

Sexual Assault Crisis Line (SACL) (24 hours) 1800 806 292
Gatehouse Centre for Child Sexual Assault (03) 9345 6391 (9am-5pm)
1800 Respect (24 hours) 1800 737 732 national telephone line for victims of sexual assault & family
Victims of Crime Help Line (7 days, 8am-11pm) 1800 819 817
e-Safety Commissioner provides information on technology facilitated abuse, cyberbully and on line safety
Child Protection Service DHHS 24 hours 131 278
Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre (24 hours) for women and children: 24 hour support 1800 015 188 or 9322 3555
Kid's Help Line

Reviewed 13 March 2019