We should live in a world where a discussion of child abuse isn’t necessary, but unfortunately we don’t. Ignoring the problem only makes it worse. It’s important to have an open dialogue about the issue so the victims know there is support and that they are not alone.
If there are painful or abusive parts of your or your partner’s childhood, they can’t remain buried forever or they will continue to negatively impact your life and your relationships. Healing can only come after understanding. Here are a definition of terms and the answers to commonly asked questions with helpful information and statistics provided by Prevent Child Abuse America.
What Defines Child Abuse and Neglect?
In the legal arena, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) set the standards for defining child abuse. CAPTA defines child maltreatment or child abuse and neglect as: “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker 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 of serious harm.”
Most states recognize four major types of maltreatment: neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. The disturbing reality is that children reported for one type of maltreatment often experience multiple types of abuse.
Neglect is defined as failure to provide for a child’s basic needs. Neglect includes physical, medical, educational, and emotional abuse.
Physical abuse is physical injury (ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures or death) as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting (with a hand, stick, strap, or other object), burning, or otherwise harming a child. Such injury is considered abuse regardless of whether or not the caretaker intended to hurt the child.
Sexual abuse includes activities by a parent or caretaker such as fondling a child's genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials. Sexual abuse is defined by CAPTA as "the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children."
Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that impairs a child's emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance. Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove and, therefore, Child Protective Services (CPS) may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm to the child. Emotional abuse is almost always present when the other forms of abuse are identified.
How many children are abused each year?
The numbers are horrific and shocking. Abuse crosses all socioeconomic barriers, forever impacting the lives of children of every race, age, and family structure. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, more than 3.5 million children are reported to state and local CPS agencies as victims of child abuse and neglect each year. Another unfathomable statistic: In 2007, an estimated 1,760 children died as a result of child abuse and neglect.
What can I do if I suspect child abuse and neglect?
The sad truth is that abuse is often hard to spot, and many children won’t seek help out of fear and shame. If you suspect that a child is being harmed, please report your concerns to the appropriate authorities. Many states have toll-free phone numbers to call and report suspected child abuse and neglect. For information about where to call or to make a report in your state, please refer to your local resource directory list or call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1.800.4.A.CHILD / 1.800.422.4453.
You may also call your local child protective services (CPS) or the police department. Most agencies will allow you to report abuse anonymously.
Remember, there is support. Whether you were abused as a child, if you suspect abuse, or if you feel out of control and think you may be harming your child, a variety of resources exist online, by phone, and in-person for you to get help!
For more information on abuse and how to find help, visit our abuse resources page.
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