The first step in preventing child abuse is defining it.
Abuse is when something or someone is being mistreated, misused, disrespected, harmed, or hurt. According to the 2010 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Child Maltreatment Report, in 2010, an estimated 695,000 children in the United States were abused. Parents are the perpetrators in 81% of child abuse cases. 57% of child abuse victims are 7 years old or younger.
The first of the four horsemen of abuse is neglect. Neglect accounts for 78% of child abuse. Neglect is when basic needs are not met. Basic needs are food, shelter, clothing, age appropriate care, love, and education. We typically picture neglect as a skeleton child who sleeps on the streets, but most neglect isn’t that severe. For example, if a parent feeds and clothes an infant adequately, but keeps the infant strapped in a car seat for much of the day on a daily basis, this is neglect. As the infant’s head rests hours upon hours in the same position on the car seat, eventually the back of the infant’s soft head will flatten. It is also likely that the child will have severe diaper rash from being changed infrequently. If this confinement becomes a long-term daily pattern, the child will become developmentally delayed, both physically and emotionally, from a lack of stimulation (being held, playing, wiggling, etc.). Seventy-eight percent may seem high, but when we consider that much of neglect is a direct result of parental substance abuse, this number is right on track. Substance abuse is a huge problem and naturally, some addicts have children. Drugs and alcohol greatly impair a parent’s ability to care for his or her child appropriately. Another form of neglect that falls under a slightly different category is medical neglect. Approximately 2% of child abuse is medical neglect. This is when a caregiver fails to provide adequate health care to a child, although they are financially able.
The second horseman is physical abuse. 18% of child abuse is physical abuse. Any physical contact that causes major bodily harm (such as bruises, welts, internal or external bleeding, or broken bones) is physical abuse. This includes the shaking of infants. The use of objects (like belts, spoons, or whips) to strike a child is also physical abuse. That being said, a normal spanking (using just a hand) is not physical abuse. Normal spankings do not leave any marks on the body, and usually do not cause pain for more than a few seconds. On a related note, in some states it is child maltreatment for a child witness domestic violence.
The third, and perhaps most disgusting type of abuse is sexual abuse. Around 9% of abuse is sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is forced or tricked touch of private body parts–whether it is the child’s private body parts or the perpetrator’s private body parts. Sexual abuse can also happen without touch. If a child is forced or tricked into showing another person his or her private body parts, this is sexual abuse. It is also sexual abuse when a child is forced or tricked to look at another person’s private body parts or at pornographic material. It is a common misconception that sexual abuse is normally something done by a complete stranger, but this is false. 90% of sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator.
The final horseman of child abuse is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse (also known as verbal or mental abuse) is the manipulation of a child through words or actions. It can also be “excessive demands on a child’s performance” (2010 Child Maltreatment Report). 8% of child abuse is emotional. I believe emotional abuse is very under-reported, considering that some degree of emotional distress occurs in every type of child abuse. In light of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect, I think emotional abuse sometimes gets shrugged away. It doesn’t seem as dangerous as the other types of abuse, so it gets ignored. Emotional abuse has it’s own unique dangers, but they aren’t as visible. Emotionally abused children can become very reluctant to trust others, which can have a negative impact on relationships with family, peers, etc. It can also have an effect on the child’s self-perception. If a child is told he is ugly, useless, and stupid, eventually he might start believing he is all those things. And if a child believes he’s ugly, useless, and stupid, eventually he might act in these ways. It’s important to mention that discipline, when carried out appropriately (in the spirit of loving correction), is not emotional abuse. I’ll explain this further in another post, so stay tuned for that.
Another 10% of child abuse doesn’t quite fall under any of the four major types of abuse. This includes, but is definitely not limited to, abandonment, threats of harm, or congenital drug addiction (when a pregnant mother uses drugs).
Regardless of how child abuse happens, it is wrong.
Child abuse must be stopped!
(all of my stats come from the 2010 Child Maltreatment Report)