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Child abuse includes all forms of physical, emotional and sexual ill-treatment, neglect, and exploitation. Globally, hundreds of millions of children are victims of violence; the vast majority of perpetrators are parents-family caretakers. In the USA, over 3 million children are reported to official agencies for severe maltreatment each year. These official figures are just the tip of the iceberg, as more than a third of adults in the USA report having experienced abuse and/or neglect as a child.
Types of Child Abuse
Child physical abuse involves a parent or caretaker intentionally inflicting physical pain on the child. Physical violence against children ranges from extremes such as punching, beating, kicking (16 percent), to the less severe such as spanking (90 percent). Note that engaging in the less severe or ”culturally acceptable” levels of harsh parenting and/or corporal punishment significantly increases the likelihood that parents will proceed to more severely abuse the child. Child sexual abuse involves a caretaker using a child for sexual gratification. Such violence ranges from extremes of actual penetration, molestation with genital contact (17 percent girls, 4 percent boys), to the less severe noncontact abuse (proposition, exhibition). Child emotional abuse involves a parent-caregiver inflicting psychological pain on the child, including yelling, ridiculing, degrading or humiliating, isolating, ignoring, rejecting, terrorizing, or corrupting a child. Severe emotional violence against children (10—15 percent) is often distinguished from less severe (65—85 percent) by whether it forms a pattern and the degree ofpotential or actual harm. Child neglect involves a parent-caretaker s failure to provide for the child s basic needs. This includes physical, medical, educational, supervision and/or emotional neglect, although most focus on severe physical neglect like abandonment or mal-nourishment (14 percent girls, 21 percent boys). Finally, prenatal neglect (refusal to obtain care) or abuse (smoking, drinking, taking illegal drugs during pregnancy) constitutes another category of maltreatment and is associated with a higher risk of child abuse after birth.
Consequences of Child Abuse
The consequences of child abuse are considerable for the child, the adult they become, and for society. In fact, even the less severe forms of child abuse, like spanking, have many negative effects. Some consequences differ by type of maltreatment. For example, child neglect is most strongly associated with lower cognitive development and educational achievement for the child; while child physical abuse is more strongly related to higher levels of child aggression and subsequent violence. However, all forms of child maltreatment are associated with adverse effects including increased risk of mental health problems such as depression; substance abuse of legal and illegal drugs as a teenager; risky sexual behavior as a teenager; delinquency and arrests; and poorer physical health when older.
The Cycle of Child Abuse
Aside from the obvious trauma, reasons for the profound effects of child abuse include changes in the child s brain and CNS that result from child maltreatment; modeling effects; presence of toxic belief systems; and the defense mechanisms that children develop to cope with fear and despair. These include denial, depression, substance abuse, risky sex — all of the factors that in turn increase the chances that these maltreated children will grow up to abuse and/or neglect their own children.
Child Abuse Prevention
The problem of child abuse and neglect crosses all class, cultural, religious, racial, ethnic, gender, economic, and geographic boundaries. The sheer pervasiveness, brutality, and forms of child abuse point to the need to search for the underlying structural causes. Anchored in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the weight of evidence points to the need to extend to children the rights of human beings and equal protection under the law from violence in order to begin an end to the abuse of children.
- The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/
- Family Research Laboratory, http://cola.unh.edu/frl