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Child Abuse is defined as "endangerment to a child inflicted by another person, usually the caregiver" Leiter 1 and includes physical, sexual, emotional abuse, and neglect. Child abuse can be brought on by any one at any time. The purpose of this paper is to overview the four previously stated types of abuse, their effects on children, the legal aspects of child abuse, and dealing with abuse. Child abuse is prevalent in almost every culture across the world and has been a problem for as long as there was recorded history. "People used to abuse their children with razor straps and no one thought anything of it." Leiter 1 It is only recently that citizens became aware of what a problem abuse could be.
Physical abuse can be classified as any attempt or harm to a child where the caregiver was conscience of the risk before the fact. "Physical abuse refers to non accidental injury to a child." 2 Physical abuse is extremely dangerous to the child and can cause permanent physical and mental disabilities.
"In cases where maltreatment was substantiated 26 percent" of victims suffered from physical abuse nation wide. 3 Mayo Clinic In the Gallup Monthly Poll of 1000 randomly selected American parents, "Over half of the parents said they administered minor physical punishment during the past year, while 22 percent said they use severe physical punishment." 3 Mayo Clinic This physical punishment does not work as effectively as other types of punishment and strictly speaking is illegal. "It is much better to choose a punishment that will fit the action, for example if a child has a fight over the TV, take away TV privileges. Corporal punishment is usually administered when the parent is being brash and hasn't had time to cool down from the child's misbehavior." 1 Leiter
Sexual abuse "refers to any sexual behavior between a child and an adult or an older, bigger, or more powerful person, for that person's sexual gratification." 2 Sexual abuse, while still completely horrible, is often times blown completely out of scale and is "the most advertised type of abuse" 1 Leiter. "Sex abuse ranges from unwanted kisses to inappropriate touching to sexual intercourse." 4 pg. 107 Only 14 percent of cases where maltreatment was substantiated did victims suffer from sexual abuse in the United States. 3 Mayo Clinic Sexual abuse is often times kept hidden more than other types of abuse. Children are forced and threatened not to tell any one of the encounters because of the social humiliation of being involved in sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is the only type of abuse that occurs equally across socio-economic barriers 1 Leiter.
"Emotional abuse refers to a chronic attitude or behavior directed at a child, or the creation of an emotional environment, which is seriously detrimental to or impairs the child's psychological and or physical development." 2 This type of abusive behavior can bring down an individual's feeling of self worth and self-esteem. "It leaves victims feeling inadequate helpless or worthless" 4 health book The result of emotional abuse is often that the child will either "run away or withdraw socially" 1Leiter Emotional abuse is the least common type of abuse that was substantiated by Mayo Clinic with only 5 percent of cases of maltreatment. The Gallup Poll Monthly recorded that "Nine out of ten parents said that they shouted at their children" 3 Mayo Clinic
Neglect is often thought of as the most dangerous type of abuse. "Neglect refers to any serious omission or commission by a person which jeopardizes or impairs the child's psychological, intellectual, or physical development" 2 Neglect includes anything from leaving children alone for long periods of time to not giving them the correct health care to not giving the child enough to eat. Fifty-three percent of victims of maltreatment that were substantiated suffered from neglect. 3 Mayo Clinic "Moreover neglect often requires difficult-to-accumulate evidence of a pattern of failure in care giving before being substantiated, whereas physical or sexual abuse may require only one trip to the hospital" 5 Social Work Research pg. 68 "Neglect is directly related to poverty" 1 Leiter This is because poverty is a stressor due to the fact that those in poverty must work much harder to get basic commodities so caregivers can not always spend time with their children.
Legal Aspects of Child Abuse:
It is illegal to abuse any child physically, emotionally, sexually, or through neglect. This law was put into place to prevent people from being child abusers. It is also illegal for a person not to report if they suspect child abuse. "Any person who has cause to suspect that any juvenile is abused or neglected must report that to the Director of Social Services in the county where the child resides or is found. The report may be made orally by telephone, or in writing, and shall include the name and address of the child; the nature or extent of any injury or condition resulting from abuse or neglect; and any other relevant information." 6 Attorney General's webpage reads the North Carolina Statute Section 7A-543 titled 'DUTY TO REPORT CHILD ABUSE OR NEGLECT.' This law overrules even physician-patient privileges.
Effect of Abuse on children:
Abusing children directly affects their performance in school. According to a study published in Social Work Research students who are abused consistently do worse on "CAT standardized tests, grade point averages, proportion who dropped out when eligible, mean annual absences, proportion of possible behavior problems and retentions, and proportion with delinquency complaints" 5 Social Work Research pg. 75
Dealing with Abuse:
When dealing with any type of Abuse one should immediately seek help at one of the many abuse prevention centers across the nation. Daniel D. Broughton, MD, says "Intervention aims to stabilize the family and improve its functioning, to teach parenting and coping skills, to retain an intact family with appropriate services and a good follow-up, families often improve greatly." 3 Mayo Clinic Child abuse is a dangerous disease that can destroy families and communities if it is not stopped.
The impact of abuse reaches all levels of a child’s emotions. The two most common emotions are confusion and guilt. Confusion is usually the initial reaction of the child. They will usually wonder what is going on or if this is right or wrong. For a young child these types of questions can be a huge burden on their physiological development. Once the abuse begins the victim experiences a tremendous conflict with their emotions. They feel pleasant due to the attention they are receiving from the parent, as well as the sensual pleasure. On the other hand they experience pain, guilt, and anger for what is being done to them.
The question if this is right or wrong is the greatest conflict within the child’s mind. The abuse feels so wrong yet the abuser insists its okay, taking advantage of the child’s mistrust and naivety. Below are the thoughts of an abused victim as she thinks back to her abuse and questions her father. It is an example of this mistrust as well as the confusion which goes through a child’s mind.
"Since I was a little ten-year-old child, I had to deceive and hide from the world and my mother that my father took a sexual interest in me. Remember how you taught me that art of deceit First you put me in a situation that had to be kept a secret then you pledged me to secrecy...As a ten- year-old child, what was I supposed to do You are an intelligent man-you figure out the options available to a ten-year-old in that position." Dolan 58
Guilt is also a huge emotional trip for the child. The abused will feel tremendous guilt for a numerous reasons: they feel they did nothing to stop the abuse therefore they are responsible and it should continue, they felt uncomfortable but the abuse was sometimes pleasurable, or they somehow deserved and or caused the abuse. A victim will usually feel this way when their self-esteem has diminished and they have no more answers for what is happening. The following quote illustrates that guilt makes the child unable to clearly see reality. It also gives insight into the mind of the abused.
"A nine-year-old girl had a nightmare and went to her father’s room for comfort but instead he sexually abused her. The girl then concluded that she caused the abuse by going to his room. The abuse thereafter continued and she now felt she deserved for it to continue." Green 24
Another major source of guilt comes from the mother. Often when the mother is told about the abuse she will not want to believe the accusations and will blame the child. Other reasons for why the mother may pass guilt are that she may feel weak and unable to challenge the husbands’ actions and therefore she looks over the husbands faults and looks to the child for blame and or the mother doesn't want to lose her husband. She does not want to give up the security provided by her husband and will block out the abuse.
For these reasons much of the child abuse in the United States and else where goes unreported and continues. Reports show that out of the one to two million children abused every year in the United States only about half that number is reported to anyone. Man cases are the most common cases that go unreported, less than 30 by current estimates. Also about 11,120 of those cases reported have been because of the death of the child. The amount of child abuse is staggering to think about, let alone deal with. By the age of eighteen one in three girls will have been sexually molested and one in six boys will have been molested in that same age. These include physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental abuse and neglect. Lesar 419
One reason why abuse is on the up rise every year could be that families are undergoing a number of important structural changes. Families are smaller than in the past, with fewer children and sometimes with only one parent; parents have children at a later age; more couples live together without the being married. All these factors could in some way contribute to the family value system tumbling downward. Lesar 421
Physical abuse has many forms. It may involve the hitting or kicking of a child with the fists or the feet, or with another object; such as belts, shovels, changes, ropes, electric cords, leather straps, canes, baseball bats, sticks, broom handles, or assorted large objects. Other forms of abuse include the pouring of scalding water on a child’s body, holding a child’s head under the water of a toilet bowl, stuffed into running washing machines, throwing a child against a wall, shaking a child with extreme force or placing parts of a child’s anatomy on hot or burning objects to cause pain. Sometimes in extreme cases the shaking of a child with such extreme force as an aggressive abuser possesses can cause severe brain damage as the brain is crushed from repeated impact against the skull. This type of injury is especially damaging in babies and small children. Many times when physical abuse is caused by a parent or guardian, the child is not taken for medical help, even when wounds or injuries are very severe. When they are taken into the hospital it is usually be a secondary member of the family, one who may not have caused the abuse but did not stop it either. This type of person might be called a facilitator.
Physical abuse is termed sexual abuse when it involves the display or touching of genitalia or anything which is not a comfortable part of a normal person to person contact. This brings us to our next form of child abuse, that of Sexual or exploitive abuse. Sexual abuse is described as those activities by an older person for his or her sexual gratification without consideration for the child’s psycho-social sexual development. Also, as contacts or interactions between a child and an individual of higher power when the child is being used for the sexual stimulation of that adult or another. Smith 9 There are many categories of sexual abuse, these include; incest, pedophilia, exhibitionism, molestation, sex statutory rape, sexual sadism, and child pornography. It is estimated that approximately three hundred thousand children are involved in child prostitution and pornography. Smith 9 Many times men or woman who abuse children were abused when they were young. Sexual abuse was not as much of a problem as it is in modern times. Incidences of sexual abuse are highest in urbanized technologically advanced societies. Sexual abuse can have severe consequences on the mental development of a child.
Mental Abuse of a child can involve several different activities. These can involved the common verbal forms: yelling, neglect, constant insults, etc. They also involve certain forms of mental torture and neglect. Mental abuse is one of the most damaging forms of abuse, because unlike rape or other forms of sexual or physical abuse, mental abuse will be with you all of your life.
"I would offer this analogy to shed light what I am trying to communicate here. Physical and sexual abuse is like roadblocks in the road of life. They are there for a while, but you get over them eventually. Mental abuse, on the other hand, catalyzes the disillusion of the view of the street. If someone is always insulting you, always telling you that you are no good: then with time, your mind becomes accustomed to it, and begins to believe it. This especially is a damaging consequence for young children and infants, who are as dependent upon mental support as they are for their physiological needs. It is an utter violation of such a relationship."
Mental abuse not only affects the child, and the family, but society as a whole. Neglect is the most prevalent form of child maltreatment. A recent Study prepared by the American Humane Association states that, nationwide, neglect consistently has accounted for the greatest number of maltreatment reports; in 1998 alone it represented sixty three percent of the approximately two million cases of reported incidents of the three predominant forms of child maltreatment: physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Steinbach 8 Neglect is the unlawful withholding of a child’s basic needs: Food, Water, Shelter, Clothing. All these are all things that a child needs to live an effective life in today’s society. To deny a child these things is to leave him lower on the ladder of needs than he or she would conceivably be otherwise. Neglect is by far more prominent than any other forms of child maltreatment, but, continually it is the least prominent in child abuse advertising schemes.
This quote by Andrew Vachss accurately sums up what is said in this essay: The effect that child abuse has not just on the victims, but on their subsequent victims and on society as a whole, is, in my judgment, far more devastating than the threat of drugs, of political upheaval, of economic disaster, or of environmental destruction... I really think that child abuse is the most significant threat not just to the quality of life in this country, but to life in this country. Kesegich, p.33 Child abuse has always been around, and it always will be around as long as other people care more about themselves, than about others.
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Green, Victor. Child Abuse: National Problem, News Week, 1999.
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