Child abuse

If you have concerns about child abuse in the Northern Territory, there are things you can do.

You can find out your responsibilities under the law if you are concerned that a child or young person may have been harmed, or is at risk of being harmed.

Read below to find out about types of harm and how you can respond to a child if they talk to you about abuse.

Find out how to report child abuse.

Child abuse refers to significant harm or injury to a child that is not caused by an accident.

It can be caused by:

  • the actions or behaviour of:
    • a parent
    • a person with parental responsibility
    • a person known to the child
  • a parent's failure to protect a child from being abused or neglected
  • repeated abusive or neglectful events that happen over time.

Harm can be one or more of the following types.

Physical harm

This refers to physical injuries that are not accidental - or where there is significant risk of injury happening - due to the actions or lack of action of a parent or caregiver.

Sexual harm

This happens when any sexual activity involves a child, or sexual threats are made to a child.

It can include encouraging a child or young person to do, watch, or hear something sexually explicit.

Emotional harm

This happens when the behaviour or attitude of a parent or caregiver towards a child negatively affects (or could affect) the child's social, emotional or developmental growth.

It includes failure to provide for the child's:

  • emotional needs for nurturing and security
  • developmental needs for stimulation and interaction with other people and their environment.


This happens when a child's basic necessities of life are not met by their parent or caregiver.

Exposing a child to violence

This includes when a child is living in a home where family or domestic violence happening.

When a child or young person tells you something about being harmed, it's important to give them your full attention - without making them feel scared, or to feel they have done something wrong.

They may have deliberately decided to tell you, or the information may come out accidentally.

You may feel disgust, sadness, anger or sometimes disbelief.

Remember, these are your feelings and the child has their own.

You need to put your emotions to one side and be there for the child.

When a child talks about abuse

When a child or young person talks about being abused they may:

  • feel confused, scared, guilty, ashamed, sad, angry or powerless
  • not understand that their caregiver's behaviour may be abusive
  • believe they are responsible for the abuse
  • want to protect the person responsible - and be frightened for them
  • want to protect family or their own reputation
  • have been threatened with more harm to themselves or others if they tell someone.

If a child talks to you about being abused, you should do the following:

Listen to the child

Be calm, patient and listen supportively to the child - let them use their own words and don't interrupt them. Respond sensitively and don't judge.

Reassure them

Help the child or young person feel safe to talk. Reassure them the abuse is not their fault.

Respect them

Respect the fact the child may only tell you some details. Acknowledge their bravery and strength. Don't make promises you can't keep.

Don't ask them lots of questions - leave the investigating and fact finding to trained people.

Tell the child that you will need to talk to someone whose job it is to keep them safe.

You should then make a report.


This information was adapted from the Parent Easy Guide series © Parenting SA, Government of South Australia.

Last updated: 06 September 2019

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