Types of Abuse
All States and territories provide definitions for physical abuse. The term is generally defined as any nonaccidental physical injury to the child, and can include striking, kicking, burning, or biting the child, or any action that results in a physical impairment of the child.
Neglect is also addressed in the statutes of all States and territories, either in a separate definition, or as a type of abuse. Neglect is frequently defined in terms of deprivation of adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care. Several States distinguish between failure to provide based on the financial inability to do so and the failure to provide for no apparent financial reason. The latter constitutes neglect.
All States include sexual abuse in their definitions. Some States refer in general terms to sexual abuse, while others specify various acts as sexual abuse. Sexual exploitation is an element of the definition of sexual abuse in most jurisdictions. Sexual exploitation includes allowing the child to engage in prostitution or in the production of child pornography.
All States and territories except Georgia and Washington include emotional maltreatment as part of their definitions of abuse or neglect. Approximately 22 States, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico provide specific definitions of emotional abuse or mental injury to a child. Typical language used in these definitions is "injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of the child as evidenced by an observable or substantial change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition," or as evidenced by "anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior."
Many States and territories now provide definitions for child abandonment in their reporting laws. Approximately 18 Statesand the District of Columbia include abandonment in their definition of neglect, while 13 States, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands provide separate definitions for establishing abandonment. In general, it is considered abandonment of the child when the parent’s identity or whereabouts are unknown, the child has been left by the parent in circumstances where the child suffers serious harm, or the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or to provide reasonable support for a specified period of time.
Recognizing Child Abuse
Warning Signs of Online Sexual Child Abuse
• Your child spends large amounts of time online, especially at night.
• You find pornography on your child’s computer.
• Your child receives phone calls from men you don’t know, or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to numbers you don’t recognize.
• Your child receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don’t know.
• Your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen on the monitor when you come into the room.
• Your child becomes withdrawn from the family.
• Your child is using an online account belonging to someone else.
Recognizing Child Abuse: What Parents Should Know
The first step in helping abused children is learning to recognize the symptoms of child abuse. Although child abuse is divided into four types — physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional maltreatment — the types are more typically found in combination than alone. A physically abused child for example is often emotionally maltreated as well, and a sexually abused child may be also neglected. Any child at any age may experience any of the types of child abuse. Children over age five are more likely to be physically abused and to suffer moderate injury than are children under age five.
RECOGNIZING CHILD ABUSE
•Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
•Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
•Has learning problems that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
•Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
•Lacks adult supervision
•Is overly compliant, an overachiever, or too responsible; or
•Comes to school early, stays late, and does not want to go home.
•Shows little concern for the child, rarely responding to the school’s requests for information, for conferences, or for home visits
•Denies the existence of, or blames the child for, the child’s problems in school or at home
•Asks the classroom teacher to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves
•Sees the child entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome
•Demands perfection or a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve
•Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs
The Parent and Child:
•Rarely touch or look at each other
•Consider their relationship entirely negative
•State that they do not like each other.
SIGNS OF PHYSICAL ABUSE
•Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes
•Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school
•Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home from school
•Shrinks at the approach of adults
•Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver.
Parent or Adult Caregiver:
•Offers conflicting, unconvincing, or no explanation for the child’s injury
•Describes the child as "evil," or in some other very negative way
•Uses harsh physical discipline with the child
•Has a history of abuse as a child.
SIGNS OF NEGLECT
•Is frequently absent from school
•Begs or steals food or money from classmates
•Lacks needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or glasses
•Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor
•Lacks sufficient clothing for the weather
•Abuses alcohol or other drugs
•States there is no one at home to provide care
The parent or other adult caregiver:
•Appears to be indifferent to the child
•Seems apathetic or depressed
•Behaves irrationally or in a bizarre manner
•Is abusing alcohol or other drugs
SIGNS OF SEXUAL ABUSE
•Has difficulty walking or sitting
•Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
•Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
•Becomes pregnant or contracts a venereal disease, particularly if under age fourteen
•Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver
The parent or other adult caregiver:
•Is unduly protective of the child, severely limits the child’s contact with other children, especially of the opposite sex
•Is secretive and isolated
•Describes marital difficulties involving family power struggles or sexual relations
SIGNS OF EMOTIONAL MALTREATMENT
•Shows extremes in behavior, such as overly compliant or demanding behavior, extreme passivity or aggression
•Is either inappropriately adult (parenting other children, for example) or inappropriately infantile (frequently rocking or head-banging, for example)
•Is delayed in physical or emotional development
•Has attempted suicide
•Reports a lack of attachment to the parent.
The parent or other adult caregiver:
•Constantly blames, belittles, or berates the child
•Is unconcerned about the child and refuses to consider offers of help for the child’s school problems
•Overtly rejects the child
None of these signs proves that child abuse is present in the family.
Consequences of Child Abuse
Not all abused and neglected children will experience long-term consequences. Outcomes of individual cases vary widely an
d are affected by a combination of factors, including:
• The child’s age and developmental status when the abuse or neglect occurred
• The type of abuse (physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, etc.)
• Frequency, duration, and severity of abuse
• The relationship between the victim and his or her abuser (Chalk, Gibbons, & Scarupa, 2002).
Researchers also have begun to explore why, given similar conditions, some children experience long-term consequences of abuse and neglect while others emerge relatively unscathed. The ability to cope, and even thrive, following a negative experience is sometimes referred to as "resilience." A number of protective factors may contribute to an abused or neglected child’s resilience. These include individual characteristics, such as optimism, self-esteem, intelligence, creativity, humor, and independence. Protective factors can also include the family or social environment, such as a child’s access to social support; in particular, a caring adult in the child’s life can be an important protective factor. Community well-being, including neighborhood stability and access to health care, is also a protective factor (Thomlison, 1997).
Physical Health Consequences
Shaken baby syndrome. The immediate effects of shaking a baby, which is a common form of child abuse in infants, can include vomiting, concussion, respiratory distress, seizures, and death. Long-term consequences can include blindness, learning disabilities, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, or paralysis (Conway, 1998).
Impaired brain development. Child abuse and neglect have been shown, in some cases, to cause important regions of the brain to fail to form properly, resulting in impaired physical, mental, and emotional development (Perry, 2002; Shore, 1997). In other cases, the stress of chronic abuse causes a "hyperarousal" response by certain areas of the brain, which may result in hyperactivity, sleep disturbances, and anxiety, as well as increased vulnerability to post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, and learning and memory difficulties (Dallam, 2001; Perry, 2001).
Poor mental and emotional health. In one long-term study, as many as 80 percent of young adults who had been abused met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21. These young adults exhibited many problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts (Silverman, Reinherz, & Giaconia, 1996). Other psychological and emotional conditions associated with abuse and neglect include panic disorder, dissociative disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and reactive attachment disorder (Teicher, 2000).
Cognitive difficulties. The National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being found that children placed in out-of-home care due to abuse or neglect tended to score lower than the general population on measures of cognitive capacity, language development, and academic achievement (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003).
Difficulties during adolescence. Studies have found abused and neglected children to be at least 25 percent more likely to experience problems such as delinquency, teen pregnancy, low academic achievement, drug use, and mental health problems (Kelley, Thornberry, & Smith, 1997).
Abusive behavior. Abusive parents often have experienced abuse during their own childhoods. It is estimated approximately one-third of abused and neglected children will eventually victimize their own children (Prevent Child Abuse New York, 2003).