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Child Abuse – is it just physical ?

The first step towards recognizing and preventing abuse of children is education about the forms of abuse that exist. Types of child abuse are broken down in four distinct categories:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse / Psychological abuse
  • Neglect

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is an injury resulting from physical aggression. Physical punishment is the use of physical force with the intent of inflicting bodily pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correction or control. As you can see, physical punishment can easily get out of control and become physical abuse.

Some other specific types of physical child abuse are:

  • Shaken Baby Syndrome – Shaking a baby or toddler can cause serious head injuries.
  • Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome – Inducing medical illness in a child or wrongly convincing others that a child is sick is both dangerous and abusive.
  • Drug use during pregnancy – Drug and alcohol use during pregnancy or lactation can be harmful to your child, leading to problems such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Hundreds of thousands of children are physically abused each year by someone close to them, and thousands of children die from the injuries. For those who survive, the emotional scars are deeper than the physical scars.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse of a child is any sexual act between an adult and a child, including penetration, intercourse, incest, rape, oral sex, and sodomy. Other examples include:

  • Fondling – Touching or kissing a child’s genitals, making a child fondle an adult’s genitals.
  • Violations of bodily privacy – Forcing a child to undress, spying on a child in the bathroom or bedroom.
  • Exposing children to adult sexuality – Performing sexual acts in front of a child, exposing genitals, telling “dirty” stories, showing pornography to a child.
  • Commercial exploitation – Sexual exploitation through child prostitution or child pornography.

Regardless of the child’s behavior or reactions, it is the responsibility of the adult not to engage in sexual acts with children. Sexual abuse is never the child’s fault. 

Emotional Child Abuse

Emotional child abuse is any attitude, behavior, or failure to act that interferes with a child’s mental health or social development. It can range from a simple verbal insult to an extreme form of punishment. Emotional abuse is almost always present when another form of abuse is found. Surprisingly, emotional abuse can have more long-lasting negative psychiatric effects than either physical abuse or sexual abuse.

Other names for emotional abuse are:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Mental abuse
  • Psychological maltreatment or psychological abuse

Emotional child abuse can come from adults or from other children:

  • Parents or caregivers
  • Teachers or athletic coaches
  • Siblings
  • Bullies at school or elsewhere
  • Middle- and high-school girls in social cliques

 

Child Neglect

Child neglect is a very common type of child abuse. According to Child Welfare Information Gateway, more children suffer from neglect than from physical and sexual abuse combined. Yet victims are not often identified, primarily because neglect is a type of child abuse that is an act of omission – of not doing something.

Some overlap exists between the definitions of emotional abuse and emotional neglect. However, neglect is a pattern of failing to provide for a child’s basic needs. A single act of neglect might not be considered child abuse, but repeated neglect is definitely child abuse. There are three basic types of neglect; physical neglect, educational neglect, and emotional neglect.

Physical Neglect Failure to provide food, clothing appropriate for the weather, supervision, a home that is hygienic and safe, and/or medical care, as needed.
Educational Neglect Failure to enroll a school-age child in school or to provide necessary special education. This includes allowing excessive absences from school.
Emotional Neglect Failure to provide emotional support, love, and affection. This includes neglect of the child’s emotional needs and failure to provide psychological care, as needed.
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