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What is child abuse?

Child abuse is defined in Oregon law (ORS 419B.005) and includes:

  • Physical Abuse
  • Mental Injury
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Threat of Harm
  • Buying or selling a child
  • Permitting a child to enter or remain in or upon premises where methamphetamines are being manufactured
  • Unlawful exposure to a controlled substance that subjects a child to a substantial risk of harm to the child’s health or safety

Some types of abuse are described in more detail below:

Physical Abuse

Oregon law defines physical abuse as an injury to a child that is not accidental. Most parents do not intend to hurt their children, but abuse is defined by the effect on the child, not the motivation of the parents.

Physical abuse includes: 

  • Bruises or cuts
  • Head injuries
  • Poisoning
  • Fractures, sprains
  • Burns or scalds
  • Internal injuries
  • Electrical shocks
  • Death
Although not recommended, spanking is not abuse. However, a spanking which leaves marks or bruises on a child might be abuse. Bruises anywhere on a baby are serious.​

Other types of abuse

Sexual abuse and child exploitation

Child sexual abuse occurs when a person uses or attempts to use a child for their own sexual gratification. This includes incest, rape, sodomy, sexual penetration, fondling, voyeurism and sexual harassment.
Sexual exploitation is using children in a sexually explicit way for personal gain; for example, to make money, to obtain food stamps or drugs, or to gain status. It also includes using children in prostitution and using children to create pornography.


Neglect is failing to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, supervision or medical care. Parents must provide adequate supervision, care, guidance and protection to keep children from physical or mental harm. Parents must also provide appropriate treatment for children's problems.

A child should not be left in a position of authority or be left alone in situations beyond his ability to handle. Each child must be looked at individually to make sure he or she is physically and emotionally able to handle the given responsibility. The law does not specify the age at which a child can be left alone. However, a child under 10 cannot be left unattended for such a period of time as may likely endanger their health or welfare (ORS 163.545).

Mental injury

Mental injury includes:

  • Rejecting, abandoning or extensive ridiculing of a child.
  • Terrorizing a child by threatening extreme punishment against him or his pets or possessions.
  • Ignoring a child over time by refusing to talk to or show interest in her daily activities. This must be so extreme there is no traditional parent-child relationship between the two.
  • Isolating a child by teaching him to avoid social contact beyond the parent-child relationship.
  • Corrupting a child by teaching inappropriate behavior in areas such as aggression, sexuality or substance abuse.
  • Exposing a child to violence.

Threat of harm

Threat of harm is subjecting a child to a substantial risk of harm to the child’s health or welfare. Substantial harm is defined as immobilizing impairment, life-threatening damage, or significant or acute injury to a child’s physical, sexual, psychological, or mental development and/or functioning. Some examples of this type of abuse are:

  • A child living with or cared for by a person who has been convicted of child abuse or neglect of any child in the past.
  • A child born to or coming to live with any person who has a child currently out of their home as a result of child abuse or neglect.
  • A newborn whose primary caregiver appears to lack the skills necessary to provide adequate care even though the child has not suffered harm.
  • A child living with a person who is involved in child pornography.
  • Caregiver behavior which is out of control and threatening to a child’s safety; e.g., driving while intoxicated with children in the car .

Child selling

Child selling includes buying, selling, or trading for legal or physical custody of a child. It does not apply to legitimate adoptions or domestic relations planning.

If you need more information on child abuse and neglect, contact your local DHS Child Welfare office.

Also see: Reporting abuse

Also see: Reporting child abuse and neglect, Children & domestic violenceMandatory reporting ​​