Understanding Child Mistreatment

“When it comes to damage, there is no real difference between physical, sexual and emotional abuse. All that distinguishes one from the other is the abuser’s choice of weapons.”- Andrew Vachss

There are many formal, accepted definitions of child mistreatment. The information in this article is intended as a basic guide to understanding child abuse and neglect. Child mistreatment comes in many different forms such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse and fetal abuse. Child abuse can be defined as any act, or failure on the part of the parent or caretaker to act, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk or serious harm.

Neglect is the act of failing to meet a child’s most basic needs, such as not providing enough food, adequate shelter, denial of medical treatment and proper hygiene, basic supervision, adequate education, not meeting emotional and mental health needs, abandonment, and lack of adequate clothing for the weather.

Major forms of neglect are:
* Physical neglect: includes abandonment and inappropriate supervision, and failure to provide for the safety and well being or physical needs. Includes malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, failure to thrive, or injuries due to lack of supervision.
* Emotional neglect: includes withholding attention or affection, failure to provide psychological care, and ignoring emotional needs.
* Medical neglect: includes the delay or denial of dental or medical care, and withholding medical care due to religious beliefs.
* Educational neglect: includes not enrolling a child in school or allowing child to be chronically truant.

Physical Abuse
Physical abuse is the most obvious form of abuse. Often, the abuse directly results from inappropriate or excessive physical discipline. The caretaker or parent may be unaware of the magnitude of force when striking the child. Often there is a lack of mature parenting skills, poor childhood experiences and social isolation, as well as frequent crisis situations in the home such as domestic violence between adults and/or drug and alcohol abuse.

Physical abuse is the intentional and non-accidental injury upon a child, (i.e., shaking, slapping, pinching, hair pulling, throwing, shoving, whipping, paddling, kicking, beating, hitting, striking, choking, biting, burning) or any action that leads to physical injury.

Sexual Abuse
Those children who have experienced a history of sexual victimization are extremely likely to be re-victimized. Some research estimates increased risk of over 1000%. It is usually discovered in one of two ways: disclosure (the child, child’s parents or family member makes a report) or through indirect methods (someone witnesses the abuse of the child, the child contracts an STD or becomes pregnant).

Sexual abuse is the use of persuasion or force on a child to engage in sexual acts or any sexual act between an adult and a child (or a child with a child). It includes exhibitionism, intercourse, fondling, penetration, exploitation, pornography, child prostitution, group or oral sex, forced observation of sexual acts, sexual kissing, masturbation, sexual or finger penetration, and/or verbal pressure to have sex.

Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that can seriously interfere with a child’s positive development, psyche and self concept.

Major forms of emotional abuse are:
* Rejection and ignoring is when the adult tells the child they are unwanted, has a lack of attachment, shows no interest in the child whatsoever, doesn’t give or return any affection, doesn’t listen to the child or interrupts the child while speaking, breaks promises and doesn’t validate feelings, and listens to concerns but doesn’t care and ultimately disregards them.
* Shame and humiliation: telling the child they are stupid, wrong, inferior, or worthless, or criticizing performance, and using reproaches such as “Stop crying or I will give you something to cry about.” Pride is met with shameful condemnations, such as “Who do you think you are, the president”
* Terrorizing is when the adult accuses, blames, insults, punishes and threatens with abandonment, slanders, physical harm or death. They tend to sabotage any success by making unreasonable demands and labeling the child as a loser. May also take advantage of the child’s weakness and manipulates them.
* Isolating is when the adult keeps the child in the house or the bedroom away from others with no stimulation. They are not allowed to participate in activities and they are withheld forms of any information.
* Corruption is when the child is encouraged to witness or participates in criminal acts such as stealing, assaulting others, drug dealing or telling lies to justify illegal actions.

Spiritual Abuse
Spiritual abuse is the misuse of a position of power, leadership, or influence to further the selfish interest of the individual to abuse a child. The abuser uses the spiritual or religious rank in taking advantage of the victim’s spirituality by putting them in a state of unquestioning obedience to an abusive authority. Spiritual abuse is the maltreatment of a person (including a child) in the name of God, faith, religion, or church whether habitual or intermittent.

Fetal Abuse
FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) happens when the mother drank alcohol regularly and heavily while pregnant. The syndrome is a cluster of physical and mental birth defects found in the babies while in-utero or after the birth of the child. FAE (Fetal Alcohol Effects) is a milder version of birth defects in a baby because the mother drinks alcohol lightly during her pregnancy. A fetus can be in extreme danger of dying or in danger of being born addicted with a host of birth defects when a woman is pregnant and uses any type of drug. All drugs should be prescribed by a medical doctor for a pregnant woman.

What to do if you suspect a child is being or has been abused:
* Call 911 or Child Protective Services in your city or county (the number can be found on the Internet, in your phone book or through operator information)
* Child Help USA National Abuse Hotline -1-800-422-4453

About Elizabeth Rojas Brooks

Elizabeth Brooks completed her Master’s Degree in Social Work at the University of Southern California, and is currently pursuing a Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology. Because of her own background, Beth has developed a level of compassion and understanding for the less fortunate, the wounded and the misunderstood. Her journey to recover from her own past has led her to pursue her passion – helping others who have had similar experiences. Beth’s goal is to work in the area of violence and abuse prevention and addiction recovery. She also has a special desire to assist our service men and women who are struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

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