The well-being of children, especially those who have been abused or neglected, has been a longstanding concern. Child abuse and neglect are defined in both federal and state legislation.

The federal legislation provides a foundation for states by identifying a minimum set of acts or behaviors that define physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse. Each state is responsible for providing its own definitions of child abuse and neglect within the civil and criminal context. Civil statutes describe the circumstances and conditions that obligate mandated reporters to report known and suspected cases of abuse, and they provide definitions necessary for juvenile/family courts’ determination of child dependency.

Criminal statutes specify the forms of maltreatment that are criminally punishable.

In 2010, there were 18,649 reports of child abuse and neglect in Nevada, of which 4,947 cases were substantiated. There were 12,940 unsubstantiated cases statewide.

Almost 88 percent of the abusers were victims’ biological parents (mother/ father) and the majority of victims were under the age of seven. (See Table 1)


How to Recognize Child Abuse

There are two kinds of indicators of child abuse and neglect. Both physical signs and behavioral symptoms can be used to spot victims.

Physical indicators, such as injuries or maltreatment, can be easier to spot, but the child’s behavior also can be an important clue.

Behavior may be the only clue of abuse or neglect, particularly for the adolescent.

The following definitions of child abuse or neglect are taken from the Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS).

NRS 432B.020 states:

  1. “Abuse or neglect of a child” means:
    • Physical or mental injury of a nonaccidental nature
    • Sexual abuse or sexual exploitation, or
    • Negligent treatment or maltreatment as set forth in NRS 432B.140 of a child caused or allowed by a person responsible for his welfare under circumstances which indicate that the child’s health or welfare is harmed or threatened with harm.
  2. A child is not abused or neglected nor is his health or welfare harmed or threatened for the sole reason that his parent or guardian delivers the child to a provider of emergency services pursuant to NRS 432B.630 if the parent complies with the requirements of Paragraph (a) subsection 3 of that Section or in good faith, selects and depends upon nonmedical remedial treatment for such child, if such treatment is recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in lieu of medical treatment. This subsection does not limit the court in ensuring that a child receive a medical examination and treatment pursuant to NRS 62E280.
  3. As used in this section “allow” means to do nothing to prevent or stop abuse or neglect of a child in circumstances where the person knows or has reason to know that a child is abused or neglected.

Child abuse or neglect is usually divided into four major types: physical injury/abuse, mental injury (sometimes labeled emotional maltreatment), sexual abuse and exploitation and negligent treatment. Nevada Revised Statutes provide the following definitions for the different types of abuse and neglect (NRS 432B.070-432B.150).

“Physical injury” includes, without limitation:

  1. A sprain or dislocation.
  2. Damage to cartilage.
  3. A fracture of a bone or the skull.
  4. An intracranial hemorrhage or injury to another internal organ.
  5. A burn or scalding.
  6. A cut, laceration, puncture or bite.
  7. Permanent or temporary disfigurement.
  8. Permanent or temporary loss or impairment of a part or organ of the body.

“Mental injury” means an injury to the intellectual or psychological capacity or the emotional condition of a child as evidenced by an observable and substantial impairment of his ability to function within his normal range of performance or behavior.

“Sexual abuse” includes acts upon a child constituting:

  1. Incest under NRS 201.180
  2. Lewdness with a child under NRS 201.230
  3. Sado-masochistic abuse under NRS 201.262
  4. Sexual assault under NRS 200.366, and
  5.  Statutory sexual seduction under NRS 200.368
  6. Open or gross lewdness under NRS 201.210
  7. Mutilation of the genitalia of a female child, aiding, abetting, encouraging or participating in the mutilation of the genitalia of a female child, or removal of a female child from this State for the purpose of mutilating the genitalia of the child under NRS 200.5083

“Sexual exploitation” includes forcing, allowing or encouraging a child:

  1. To solicit for or engage in prostitution.
  2. To view a pornographic film or literature.
  3.  To engage in:
    • Filming, photographing or recording on videotape.
    • Posing, modeling, depiction or a live performance before an audience, which involves the exhibition of a child’s genitals or any sexual conduct with a child, as defined by NRS 200.700.

“Negligent treatment or maltreatment” of a child occurs if a child has been abandoned, is without proper care, control and supervision or lacks the subsistence, education, shelter, medical care or other care necessary for the well-being of the child because of the faults or habits of the person responsible for his welfare or his neglect or refusal to provide them when able to do so.

“Excessive corporal punishment” may result in physical or mental injury constituting abuse or neglect of a child under the provision of this chapter.

Table 1 Statewide Victims by Age (2010) (Substantiated Cases Only)
Age in Years Number Percent
<1 Yr 787 16.9%
1-3 Yrs 1,100 24%
4-7 Yrs 1,112 24%
8-11 Yrs 806 17.3%
12-15 Yrs 643 13.8%
16-17 Yrs 201 4.3%
Unknown 5 0.1%
TOTAL 4,654 100%
Physical and Behavioral Indicators of Child Abuse and Neglect
Type of Child Abuse/ Neglect Physical Indicators Behavioral Indicators*
Physical Injury/abuse Unexplained Bruises and Welts:
  • on face, lips, mouth
  • on torso, back, buttocks, thighs in various stages of healing
  • clustered, forming regular patterns
  • reflecting shape of article used to inflict (electric cord, belt buckle) on several different surface areas regularly appearing after absence, weekend or vacation
Unexplained Burns:
  • cigar, cigarette burns (especially on soles), palms, back or buttocks
  • immersion burns (sock-like, glove-like, doughnut shaped on buttocks or genitalia)
  • patterned like electric burner, iron, etc.
  • rope burns on arms, legs, neck or torso
Unexplained Fractures:
  • to skull, nose, facial structure
  • in various stages of healing
  • multiple or spiral fractures
Unexplained Lacerations or Abrasions:
  • to mouth, lips, gums, eyes
  • to external genitalia
  • Wary of Adult Contacts
  • Apprehensive When Other Children Cry
  • Behavioral Extremes:
    • aggressiveness, or
    • withdrawal
  • Frightened of Parents
  • Afraid to go Home
  • Reports Injury by Parents

*These are indicators. Just because a child has these behaviors does not always indicate abuse or neglect. Multiple factors must be considered.

Mental Injury/ Emotional Maltreatment
  • Speech Disorders
  • Lags in Physical Development
  • Failure to Thrive
  • Habit Disorders (sucking, biting, rocking, etc.)
  • Conduct Disorders (antisocial, destructive, etc.)
  • Neurotic Traits (sleep disorders, inhibition of play)
  • Psychoneurotic Reactions (hysteria, obsession, compulsion, phobias, hypochondria)
  • Behavior Extremes:
    • compliant, passive
    • aggressive, demanding
  • Overly Adaptive Behavior:
    • inappropriately adult
    • inappropriately infant
  • Developmental Lags (mental, emotional)
  • Attempted Suicide
Sexual Abuse
  • Difficulty in Walking or Sitting
  • Torn, Stained or Bloody Underclothing
  • Pain or Itching in Genital Area
  • Bruises or Bleeding in External Genitalia, Vaginal or Anal Areas
  • Venereal Disease, Especially in Pre-teens
  • Pregnancy
  • Unwilling to Change for Gym or Participate in Physical Education Class
  • Withdrawal, Fantasy or Infantile Behavior
  • Bizarre, Sophisticated or Unusual Sexual Behavior or Knowledge
  • Poor Peer Relationships
  • Delinquent or Run Away
  • Reports Sexual Assault by Caretaker
Neglect/negligent treatment
  • Consistent Hunger, Poor Hygiene, Inappropriate
  • Consistent Lack of Supervision, Especially in Dangerous Activities or Long Periods
  • Unattended Physical Problems or Medical Needs
  • Abandonment
  • Begging, Stealing Food
  • Extended Stays at School (early arrival and late departure)
  • Constant Fatigue, Listlessness or Falling Asleep in Class
  • Alcohol or Drug Abuse
  • Delinquency (e.g., thefts)
  • Discusses Absence of Caretaker
Reprinted from Broadhurst, Diane D. “The Educator’s Role in the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect,” The Users Manual Series. National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect: Washington, D.C., 1979, DREW No. (Ohds 79-30172.)

Factors Affecting Child Abuse

Abused and neglected children are found in families at any economic level or social status in the community. The triggering factors for child abuse and/or neglect can affect any family. Factors most often noted as causing child abuse and neglect in Nevada in 2010 were: parent’s inability to cope, insufficient income, alcohol and other drug dependence, marital problems, job-related issues, or new baby/ pregnancy, and inadequate housing. These stressors can lead to abuse but for abuse to occur, other factors must be present. Using violence as a response to stress is an example. This response is within a parent’s control to change.

Reporting Child Abuse

Many people have a legal responsibility to report suspected cases to authorities. Those identified in the law include persons working in the fields of medicine, social work, law, education, clergy and child care. Anyone required to make a report who knowingly and willfully violates the provisions of the Nevada Revised Statutes is guilty of a misdemeanor.

The Nevada Division of Child and Family Services or a designated county agency is responsible for handling all cases of child abuse and neglect in Nevada. Reports can be made statewide on the Child Abuse Hotline:
1-800-992-5757. For local reports in Clark County, call
702-399-0081. For local reports in Washoe County, call
775-785-8600 or call your local sheriff or law enforcement.

Additional Resources

  • Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect, Cooperative Extension (Fact Sheet -06-26, Updated 03-2012), contains a list of agencies handling complaints and details for reporting.
  • Responding to a Disclosure of Child Abuse. (Fact Sheet, 01-60) Offers information about how to respond if a child tells you they have been abused.


  • Administration for Children and Family: Child Maltreatment 2010: National Report. Table 3-1 Children Who Received a CPS Response by Disposition, 2010. Available at ACF.
  • Broadhurst, Diane D. The Educator’s Role in the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, the Users Manual Series. National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect: Washington, D.C., 1979, DREW No. Ohds 79-30172.
  • Child Welfare League America Fact Sheet: Nevada’s Children 2012, Child Welfare League of America.
  • Department of Child and Family Services - Foster care Available at DCFS.
  • Nevada Department of Human Resources, Division of Child & Family Services, Nevada Child Abuse & Neglect Statistics
  • Protection of Children, General Provisions, Nevada Revised Statutes
  • Reports of Abuse or Neglect. Nevada Revised Statutes, 432B.020 - 432B.330
  • State of Nevada, Division of Child and Family Services: Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect. Rev. 03-19-12.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration of Children, Youth and Families, Child Maltreatment Report 2010, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2010, Available at: Child Welfare.
Kock, J. and Byington, T 2006, Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-06-25

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