CHILD ABUSE INFORMATION
Child abuse and neglect is a national problem which has increased to epidemic proportions in the United States. More than 2.5 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States annually with hundreds of deaths related to child abuse reported each year.
Most runaways, adolescent prostitutes and teenage delinquents report having been victims of some form of child abuse, and it is reported that a majority of violent criminals suffered abuse, either physical and/or sexual as children.
Abuse robs children of the opportunity to develop healthy, trusting relationships with adults, contributes to low self-esteem, and impairs healthy psycho-social development. Indeed, the effects of childhood abuse often last a lifetime.
What is child abuse?
The term "child abuse" can be defined as any behavior directed toward a child by a parent, guardian, care giver, other family member, or other adult, that endangers or impairs a childs physical or emotional health and development.
While child abuse and neglect affect all segments of society and know no socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic, or religious boundaries, included among the factors which often contribute to child abuse are alcohol and substance abuse, lack of parenting skills, economic difficulties or poverty, domestic violence and previous victimization.
Child abuse includes four major categories: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect.
Physical child abuse involves external injuries and is more easily detected than other forms of abuse. The following signs may indicate physical abuse:
Child neglect is the continued failure to provide a child with necessary care and protection including adequate shelter, food, clothing, medical care, etc. Lack of appropriate supervision, especially for young children, for extended periods of time is also considered child neglect. Signs of possible neglect include:
Why are children physically abused and/or neglected?
Parents who abuse their children may love them very much but not very well. The most prevalent reasons for child abuse and neglect are:
Emotional abuse is the most difficult form of child abuse to verify. It includes both verbal assaults and the withholding of positive emotional support. Although the scars may not be visible to the naked eye, emotional abuse wounds the spirit, frequently leaving its marks for a lifetime.
Victims of emotional abuse are "hit" every day with the power of words which are demeaning, shaming, threatening, blaming, intimidating, unfairly critical or sarcastic in nature.
This form of abuse is destructive to a childs self-confidence and self-esteem. It can affect a childs emotional development, resulting in a sense of worthlessness and inadequacy. Some indicators of potential emotional abuse include:
Children who suffer emotional abuse often grow into adults who see themselves through the eyes of their abuser. They carry a sense of inadequacy and worthlessness with them into their jobs and relationships. Frequently, those who have experienced emotional abuse in childhood find it difficult to develop healthy, intimate relationships as adults. They may even develop antisocial behaviors which isolate them further.
It is important to recognize that emotional/verbal abuse has a powerful negative effect on children. Physical abuse is almost always accompanied by emotional abuse. We must be alert to the ways children are portrayed in the media and words we hear being directed at them. Breaking the cycle of emotional abuse is a responsibility we all must share.
Incest, sexual molestation, rape, sodomy, child pornography, exhibitionism and exploitation are terms most often used when describing child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse can be physical -- including genital or oral stimulation, fondling and intercourse; non-physical -- including indecent exposure, obscene phone calls or "peeping toms"; and/ or violent -- as in rape or other forms of sexually violent behavior.
Incidents of child sexual abuse are damaging whether they occur only once, are repeated many times, or last over a number of years. A single, seemingly minor incident, (e.g. indecent exposure, fondling or an obscene phone call), may cause temporary emotional disturbances such as embarrassment, fear, confusion, guilt, anxiety, and a distrust of adults or strangers.
More severe incidents of sexual abuse, such as incest, rape, sodomy, exposure to pornographic activity or other forms of sexual violence may have a lasting effect on the child. Behavioral problems may include withdrawal, difficulty at school, aggression, running away, nightmares, and extreme anxiety or depression. In some cases symptoms of childhood sexual abuse may not appear until adulthood.
Those who sexually victimize children often suffer from an emotional or psychological dysfunction, usually as a result of their own previous sexual victimization. They often have severe sexual problems and difficulty relating to adults. Most are adults with whom the child is familiar, and they may repeatedly abuse the same child. An adult who is a stranger to the child will often abuse that child only once but may continue to abuse other children. Factors to be aware of include:
First and foremost, DO NOT DENY THE PROBLEM. Believe what the child tells you no matter how unbelievable the information sounds.
For parents, the following suggestions are meant to give you some guidelines as you seek to teach your child/children how to protect themselves from sexual abuse. Each parent must decide how best to handle the topic of child sexual abuse with his/her own child. The important thing is to not leave children defenseless in the face of this potential danger.
© 1998-2013 National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence