Every province and territory in Canada has a legal definition of what constitutes child abuse. Typically, child abuse is the act or omission by any person where the act or omission results in:

  • Physical injury to the child
  • Emotional disability of a permanent nature in the child or is likely to result in such a disability
  • Sexual exploitation of the child with or without the child’s consent

Child Abuse Takes a Variety of Forms

Physical abuse: The use of force against a child in such a way that the child is either injured or at risk of being injured. Physical abuse can be overtly aggressive (e.g. beating, hitting, shaking, pushing, choking, biting, burning, kicking, assaulting a child with a weapon) or can be more subtle and less obvious (e.g. bumping, pushing, restraining, pinching, squeezing an arm or leg).

Emotional abuse: A chronic pattern of behaviour toward a child that causes negative effects on his/her emotional development. Examples include verbal threats, social isolation, ignoring, intimidation, put-downs, and unreasonable demands. A single episode of name-calling would be considered inappropriate, but would not necessarily constitute emotional abuse. Repetitive name-calling or the intentional damaging of a child’s self-esteem, however, would be considered abusive. A single incident of high intensity emotional abuse/trauma would also qualify.

Child Sexual Abuse: Any form of adult/child sexualized interaction constitutes child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse of a child may occur through behaviours that do not involve actual physical contact.

Contact sexual abuse includes:

  • Touching the genital area, over or under clothing
  • Touching breasts, over or under clothing
  • Touching another’s genital area
  • Oral sex
  • Vaginal or anal penetration with a part of the body (e.g. finger, penis) or with an object

Non-contact sexual abuse includes:

  • Invitation to touch another in a sexual way
  • Voyeurism (‘Peeping Tom’)
  • Encouraging or forcing a child to masturbate or to watch others masturbate
  • Indecent exposure (‘flashing’) or showing genital areas
  • Involving children in the viewing or production of pornographic materials or in watching sexual activities
  • Encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways

Understanding child sexual abuse is a major step toward addressing it constructively and promoting positive change in child-serving organizations.