What is child abuse?

This document sets out to describe the various forms of abuse, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect and seeks to position racism and bullying within this framework.

Such behaviour may or may not be intentional but, regardless of the intention, is not acceptable to Pentathlon GB and efforts will be taken to eradicate it.

Some partner organisations, such as the Child Protection and Safeguarding Unit (CPSU) and other National Governing Bodies (NGBs) provide useful awareness videos on child abuse, which can be accessed online. See, for example, the CPSU and Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), O2 Advice.

How to Recognise it

Even for those experienced in working with child abuse, it is not always easy to recognise a situation where abuse may occur or has already taken place. It is acknowledged that staff and volunteers are not, generally speaking, experts at such recognition.

Some indications that a child has been abused may include:

  • Unexplained or suspicious injuries such as bruising, cuts or burns, particularly if situated on a part of the body not normally prone to such injuries;
  • An injury for which the explanation seems inconsistent;
  • The child describes what appears to be an abusive act involving him/her;
  • Someone else (a child or adult) expressing concern about the welfare of another child;
  • Unexplained changes in behaviour over time e.g. becoming very quiet, withdrawn or displaying sudden bursts of temper;
  • Inappropriate sexual awareness;
  • Engaging in explicit sexual behaviour;
  • Distrust of adults, particularly those with whom a close relationship would normally be expected;
  • An apparent difficulty in making friends;
  • The prevention by an adult from socialising with other young people;
  • Displaying variations in eating patterns including overeating or loss of appetite;
  • Weight loss for no apparent reason;
  • An increasingly dirty or unkempt appearance;
  • Displaying frequent unexplained minor injuries.

The CPSU website has a series of training videos which can be consulted on-line.

Some children and young people are mentally or physically more vulnerable than others, which could make it easier for abusers to exploit them. They may also find it more difficult to recognise and report abuse, and to be believed. In recognising and dealing with abuse, it is important to consider:


For example:

  • Younger, children have limited life experiences and so have not developed the social skills needed to work out what the behaviour of others means. This could make them less able to understand what appropriate and inappropriate behaviours are.
  • Have been encouraged to comply with other people's wishes and not to question authority figures.
  • Are afraid to challenge potentially abusive situations because of fear of the consequences. It is often easier to be compliant and pleasing rather than risk angering an authority figure and getting into trouble.
  • Younger athletes are less likely to be confident about approaching an adult to express a concern or to articulate it clearly if they do.
  • Older athletes are more likely to bully younger ones.


Girls are more likely to be sexually abused than boys.

Homosexuals may hold attitudes or behave in ways that clash with those held by adults with whom they interact and cause tensions leading to abuse.


Children from some ethnic backgrounds will have poor linguistic/language/communication skills with mainstream culture.

As a result they may not be able to report abuse either because there is no-one they can report it to or because they do not have the appropriate language to use.

Some ethnic minority families are less likely to share personal concerns outside what they regard as their own culture.


Children from some backgrounds may at times be subject to traditions that prevent them from participating in sport in the same way as the majority because of beliefs around dress, gender roles, fasting, mixing with members of the opposite sex etc. This may mask certain types of abuse.


Children with physical and or mental disabilities, are x3 times more likely to be abused because of

  • Reduced mobility to physically move away from danger
  • Total dependency on /trust of adults
  • In some cases more subject to mood swings
  • May not be able to recognize that abuse has taken place.
  • Feel powerless because they have to depend on others for personal support.
  • Are not believed because their authority figures cannot accept that anyone would abuse a disabled child.
  • May not have anybody they can trust and confide in.
  • May feel guilt or shame about the abuse which prevents them from reporting it.
  • May not have a sense of ownership of their own bodies because they are so used to being examined physically by others as part of their medical and physical care.
  • Have low self-esteem and a poor self image.


Children who are in care, left to fend for themselves after school, getting to and from training, dependent upon adult support from outside the immediate family etc. are more likely to be abused.

Children from poor homes are less likely to feel confident about themselves or have high self-esteem making them more vulnerable to abuse.

Children from poor homes are less likely to have good communication skills and parental support.


Children of abused parent(s) are more likely to be abused by their parents than non abused parents.

It is the duty of anyone witnessing such abuse to report it immediately to the appropriate authorities.