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Child Abuse – Definition

Child Abuse – Definition

The term “child abuse” refers to the violence, mistreatment or neglect that a child or adolescent may experience while in the care of someone they either trust or depend on, such as a parent, sibling, other relative, caregiver or guardian. It also refers to any form of physical, psychological, social, emotional or sexual maltreatment of a child whereby the survival, safety, self-esteem, growth and development of the child are endangered. Abuse may take place anywhere and may occur, for example, within the child’s home or that of someone known to the child.

An abuser may use a number of different tactics to gain access to a child, exert power and control over them, and prevent them from telling anyone about the abuse or seeking support.  A child who is being abused is usually in a position of dependence on the person who is abusing them. Abuse is a misuse of power and a violation of trust. The abuse may happen once or it may occur in a repeated and escalating pattern over a period of months or years. The abuse may change form(s) over time.

A child who is being abused may endure the abuse for a long time before telling anyone what is happening. Some victims never tell anyone about what they have experienced. Depending on their age and stage of development, a child may not be able to communicate what has happened to them, or they may fear they will not be believed. They may be convinced that the abuse is their fault and, if they tell anyone about it, they will be punished. In general, there are four major types of child abuse: (a) physical abuse, (b) sexual abuse, (c) emotional abuse, and (d) neglect.

Physical Child Abuseis the deliberate use of force against a child and any injury purposely inflicted upon a child which results or may result in bodily harm, may consist of just one incident or it may happen repeatedly. It involves deliberately using force against a child in such a way that the child is either injured or is at risk of being injured.  These injuries may result in permanent disfigurement, disability, or even death.

Sexual Child Abuse and Exploitation ranges from sexual harassment to sexual activity, involving using a child for sexual purposes.        Also, any efforts of an adult to seduce a minor into a sexual relationship, whether the act is accomplished or not, is considered a form of child sexual abuse. Inappropriate intimacy with children will also be regarded as child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is the use of a child or youth for sexual gratification. Sexual abuse is forced unwanted sex, demanding the partner wear more (or less) provocative clothing; forced sex in any form; insisting the partner act out fantasies, and denial of the partner’s sexuality. Child sexual abuse, sexual molestation or sexual exploitation can include any kind of sexual act directed toward a child by an adult or by an older or more powerful child or any sexual act which involves a threat or violence.

NeglectChild Abuseoccurs when the child’s basic needs aren’t being met is often chronic, and it usually involves repeated incidents. It involves failing to provide what a child needs for his or her physical, psychological or emotional development and well being.

Emotional Child Abuserefers to acts or omissions that harm a child’s sense of self in a way that causes or could cause behavioural, cognitive and emotional disorders which involves harming a child’s sense of self.  It includes acts (or omissions) that result in, or place a child at risk of, serious behavioural, cognitive, emotional or mental health problems. It also means that the child is experiencing behaviours from an adult that hinders the ability of that child to develop appropriately on an emotional level.

Medical Child Abuseoccurs when a caregiver fails to ensure that the child receives the medical treatment that is necessary to ensure their health. This may include failure to ensure the child is up to date on immunizations, failure to enrol the child in mental health counselling if necessary for their mental well-being, and even not ensuring a child takes medicine that is prescribed for their health.

Educational Child Abuseoccurs when a caregiver fails to ensure that a child is attending school as deemed appropriate by the laws of the state in which they reside, special education needs are not handled, and a child is not assisted in an educational manner.


5 Things You Need to Know About Child Abuse

(Source: 5 Things You Need to Know About Child Abuse)


Child Abuse Isn’t Just Hitting

Child abuse is any treatment that isn’t in the best interest (either: physically, psychologically or emotionally) of the child. This includes any physical harm, sexual act, neglect, verbal degradation or emotional or psychological harm. Abuse can be subjective per child; however, there are some definite rules about behaviour that most people would find abusive or harmful, such as sexual abuse, physical harm and neglect. Any act that doesn’t allow a child to learn and grow in a physically and emotionally safe environment constitutes abuse and should be taken very seriously.


Doing Nothing Can Be Abusive

Neglect is a common type of abuse; you should treat it just as seriously as any form of physical abuse. Neglect can take many forms, such as failure to provide adequate nutrition, reckless disregard for a child’s safety, failure to provide adequate health care, and abandonment. Educational or developmental neglect include not educating a child (in the United States, failure to enrol a child in school is neglect) and refusal to provide educational needs or tutelage to a child in need. Emotional and psychological neglect can take many forms, but the most common are inadequate nurturing, exposure to spousal or other family abuse, failure to intervene in negative behaviour of a child, and the allowance of illegal drug use, inappropriate sexual activity or alcohol abuse.


Signs of Abuse Are Often Obvious

Abused children have a typical manner of development that gives a clear indication of a problem. Physically abused children may have physical marks or bruises that the child can’t explain poor development or social functioning, weight abnormalities without a medical reason, phobias, night-terrors, behavioural problems and developmental issues. Sexually abused children typically have an inappropriate interest in sexual activity, seductive behaviour, an unwillingness to undress around others, aggression or fear of certain people or family members.


Report Child Abuse–Or You’re Part of the Problem

Being aware of or suspecting child abuse and not intervening is criminal behaviour. It’s the responsibility of every individual in the community to ensure the safe and healthy development of children. When you suspect child abuse, contact Child Protective Services to conduct a thorough investigation. Introduction of the child to a mental health professional can help determine the scope and severity of suspected abuse; it’s a big step in helping stop the abusive behaviour and healing the child.


Effects of Child Abuse Last Longer Than a Bruise

Child abuse can cause serious long-term effects to a child’s cognitive and emotional functioning. You can trace everything from drug abuse and impaired social functioning to depression, schizophrenia and even criminal behaviour to a history of child abuse. Recognizing the effects of child abuse on not only the child but also the larger community is important because it affects us all. Giving abused children a voice is necessary and vital.

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