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Published: Tuesday 29th of October 2013
Many children across the world have to endure abuse and neglect. Often, their lives and safety get endangered in the course. By child abuse, we normally understand either inflicting intentional harm to the child’s well-being or doing nothing to stop this harm from happening, including failure to provide for the child’s natural demands. Child abuse can be categorized into several types: physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect. The classification of these types of abuse suggests that these types are different in their nature, causes, and effects. A variety of particular issues can provoke each type of child abuse. These issues can be divided into parent-caused, environment-caused, and child-caused.
Parent-caused issues usually occur in families where parents themselves have endured emotional deprivation in their childhood or fail to recognize the borderline between discipline and abuse, as well as in families that isolate themselves from the community. It also often happens when parents are teenagers who lack expertise in child-raising or in single-parent families where these single parents cannot spare enough time for their children. Environment-caused issues are those that root from the child’s surroundings – such as, for example, substance abuse among parents or in the community, poverty, overcrowded living conditions, etc. Child-caused issues occur when a child is born with special needs, which parents fail to meet for whatever reasons. Child abuse plays a critical role in shaping the children’s personalities and pre-determining their lives by damaging their self-esteem and, thus, rendering them incapable of proper social functioning, including building successful personal relationships, inability to pursue their studies and, consequently, further their careers.
Child abuse is one of the most critical challenges of today’s society. In the long-run, it causes significant problems not only to individuals and families. It can take many forms and be both physical and psychological. This is why it is such a grave issue, and numerous organizations are starting to address this issue on both local, national, and international level. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, generally, define child abuse as an act or a series of acts that impose harm, potential harm, or chance of harm onto a child by parents or other caregivers, either through actions or through lack thereof. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act provides a more specific definition stating that child abuse is any act committed by a parent or other caregiver that leads to the child’s emotional damage, sexual abuse or exploitation, or lethal consequences, including failure to prevents such consequences.
Millions of children around the world have to endure various forms of child abuse every day. More often than not, child abuse is the result of the parents’ attempts to punish their children for something, to scare them into submission, to prevent children from doing something punishable or just to raise children well-disciplined and unspoiled. Regardless of the intentions, parents themselves are not controlled in this process, and they begin to feel their omnipotence over the child, and their actions inevitably become more intense as children suffer more, even if it was never the parents’ intention. Their intention was to teach their children discipline and respect, but they often fail to realize that physical or psychological violence is not the way to achieve this.
For example, Child Protective Services reported about three million instances of suspected child abuse and/or neglect in 2001 alone. Out of them, one million children were confirmed to have endured different forms of neglect varying from medical neglect to sexual abuse, and the astounding number of four million children had to be taken into custody of Child Protective Services. Notably, about 75% of these instances indicate the official caregivers as the source of abuse, whereas in 10% of examples the abuse was affected by other family members. Our common belief is that the biggest threat to a child’s well-being comes from strangers, but, as we can see, children get abused by family members or other people from the same community much more often. The most shocking statistics, however, are the ones telling that not more than 50% reports of child abuse go all the way in terms of legal pursuit, where the authorities take all the necessary measures to have the case investigated on the national level. Moreover, the firm evidence of child abuse is found in only a little more than 30% of the instances. This essay, however, focuses on the theoretical aspects and presents various possible types of child abuse along with their consequences.
Today, we can list four types of child abuse: neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. It is logical to start with neglect because this is the most common type of child abuse. The Longman dictionary defines neglect as paying too little attention or downright ignoring. So, child neglect is when parents or other caregivers fail to pay enough attention to the child in their custody, their essential needs, and demands. To be more exact, child neglect can manifest itself in the child’s poor hygiene, visible malnutrition, unfitting or dirty clothes or clothes improper for particular weather or situation, frequent sickness without proper medical attention or other reasons for frequent absence from class, as well as other forms of isolation. These are the sure ways to detect child neglect that can be observed and reported by people outside of the child’s immediate family – for example, neighbors, teachers, and other school workers, etc.
Child neglect itself can be subdivided into further types: physical, emotional, and educational. Physical neglect is the easiest one of the three to notice – it can manifest itself in the child’s persistent sickly and/or untidy look that results from the caregiver’s failure to provide appropriate food and clothing for the child and/or guarantee them medical care when necessary. The same goes for the caregivers’ failure to provide the child with a proper home, which one can observe when a child has to stay outside their supposed home for a day or several too frequently. Emotional neglect can be defined as the caregivers’ failure to attend to the child’s need for attention and support and described by the child being permitted to abuse substances, being subjected to inadequately high expectations, witnessing the conflicts between caregivers on a regular basis, or not getting proper medical support when encountering health (including mental health) issues. Educational neglect is when the parents or caregivers fail to provide their children with the basic learning conditions and supplies, do nothing to ensure the children are attending school on a regular basis, or don’t get their children enrolled to school at all.
Then, there is emotional abuse. Notably, it is the most difficult kind of child abuse for an outsider eye to identify. American Humane defines emotional abuse not as a single act or a series of acts by parents or caregivers, but rather as their overall behavioral pattern where they interfere with the child’s very perception of the world influencing it on a social, psychological, emotional, or cognitive level. It occurs when the caregiver not only ignores the child but intentionally and repeatedly humiliates him or her verbally. These verbal humiliations include threats, downgrading the child’s value, blaming the child for incapacity to live up to inappropriately high expectations, etc. Clinical research has sorted out several manifestations of emotional abuse – such as speech impediments and hindered physical development, hyperactivity, and mischief, academic failure, etc.
Next, there is physical child abuse. This is the most widely noticed type of abuse, because the signs of its occurrence, as well as its effects on a child enduring it, are the most visible to an outsider’s eye. One can say that an instance of physical abuse took place when one can observe a physical injury on a child without a consistent and credible explanation to back it up in view of the exact circumstances. In other words, the abusers – or even the children themselves – have to make up a theory to explain a physical injury, and this theory proves to be incoherent in view of the current situation and/or the child’s current level of physical development. Such evidently assumed theories can and must raise suspicion, particularly when the injury is claimed to be self-inflicted, or when professional medical attention was necessary but was not given timely. The signs of potential physical abuse should be all signs of physical damage to a child’s body, but particularly those that do not resemble accidents – for example, bruises, welts, or burns. As we have mentioned before, the abusing caregivers almost always sincerely believe that they are doing the right thing, so the signs of physical abuse can be even more apparent – fractures of skull, face, or bones.
Finally, there is sexual abuse. This type of child abuse gets arguably the most exposure, even though it is the most rarely reported type. Scholars define sexual child abuse as an act or a series of acts meant at exploiting the child’s emotional, cognitive, or maturational inability to give consent to such acts or deal with them otherwise. In practice, it can refer to a multitude of sexual activities into which the child may be forced – from sexual interaction with a child or other contacts with a child’s genitals to exposing the child’s genitals or exposing the abuser’s genitals to a child. Contrary to the common belief, girls are not subjected to sexual abuse more often than boys: statistics show that children between the ages of six and nine years old are the most vulnerable to sexual abuse regardless of their gender. The physical manifestation of sexual child abuse may vary from physical – such as pain in the respective body areas or hindered walking or sit – to mental – such as increased interest to their or other people’s genitalia or even excessive masturbation.
If we want to prevent child abuse from happening, we should address the causes of this phenomenon. As we have already mentioned, there are three main types of causes for child abused. Child abuse can be parent-caused, environment-caused, and child-caused. Parent-caused child abuse includes instances when a child has to be raised by teenage parents who lack the expertise to tend to their own needs, let alone those of a child. Their incapacity to perform to their and children’s needs leads to irritation, and consequently, they take out that anger on their children. Unfortunately, however, this problem is not specifically characteristic of teenage parents. In general, any parent, who has too many problems to deal with (a single parent, for example), can potentially get annoyed by their children and victimize them physically. Another related factor that puts teenage parents into the risk group in this regard is their lack of child-raising skills which they simply never had the time to gain. This, however, is once again not typical of teenage parents specifically. Parents who themselves were raised in an abusive environment will often deem such environment normal for raising a child, even if they are conscious that their parents did indeed abuse them in their time. The skills necessary for raising a healthy child will naturally be beyond their skill set; they will not be able to see the borderline between discipline and abuse, sincerely believing that this is the right way; thus, the vicious circle of abuse keeps spinning. Finally, another group of parents, who risk being abusive toward their children, are people with various mental disorders like depression or anxiety. Once again, such people can barely take care of their own needs and demands, let alone those of their children.
Then, there are environment-caused issues. The most frequent one here is the parents’ substance abuse. Abusing substances such as alcohol changes the person’s perception of his or her own needs, so it only natural that they will eventually misunderstand the demands of their children. This is because a person under influence loses touch with reality and can barely tell what’s right from what’s wrong, doing so without any ill intentions towards their children. Another widely discussed environment-caused issue leading to child abuse is the financial problems in the family. Such problems often result in the parents being unable to provide for the child’s needs and, as such, seeing themselves as failing parents and getting anxious in general. Additionally, such problems may lead to the parents trying to hide their children (and their inability to provide for their children financially) away from the public display, thus, isolating their children socially.
The third reason for child abuse is the easiest to define. These are the child-caused issues. As the definition suggests, these issues do not come directly from the parents or the environment, but from the children themselves. This, however, can by no means be understood that the child is to blame. Such instances occur when a child has special needs – either physical or mental. Obviously, raising such children requires much more effort and skill from parents, which includes inviting professional assistance when necessary and accepting community support. Parents may often feel embarrassed to do it, which results in this child getting less care than he or she should, down to the point when it can be classified as straightforward child abuse.
Naturally, no types of child abuse, regardless of the causes that lead to it, don’t pass without effect; they can be physical and psychological or emotional, short-term and long-term (not mutually exclusive). Short-term effects of child abuse correspond with the sign by which we can detect instances of child abuse, which we have already discussed. They may include physical traumas, such as wounds, burns, etc., aggressive or socially awkward behavior, as well as increased interest in genitalia which, among other things, can manifest in the way how the child plays with dolls.
The long-term effects are a much more complicated topic. A prolonged period of time may pass between the instance(s) of abuse and the effects showing up. During this time, the development of the outcomes can take various routes up to the point where it becomes next to impossible to trace the impact back to the cause. The only fact that can be stated with absolute certainty is that if a victim does not get timely professional help, the effects are bound to show. The most common of such impacts include various degrees of social awkwardness – from persistent failure to build a meaningful relationship to general inability to interact with other people, various mental disorders – such as panic, depression or anxiety, as well as the attempts to deal with these problems through substance abuse or other forms of self-harm, down to suicide. Naturally, sexually transmitted diseases can be among other outcomes of sexual abuse. Finally, as we have mentioned, abused children often grow up to be abusive parents themselves.
It is important to investigate the causes, signs, types, and effects of child abuse. This problem is much more massive than it is commonly believed to be, and its effects go far beyond any given individual’s life or family. Statistics show the shocking amounts of abused children who grow to be members of society – voters, decision-makers, authorities, etc. Therefore, failure to raise awareness of this problem or turning a blind eye on it means not caring about the health of our society as a whole. This is why even people who were lucky enough to never experience child abuse in any form should see it as their duty to make sure to detect signs of child abuse to effectively prevent it or properly aid the abused children. This is the only way to ensure a healthy society.