Imagine for one moment that you are not yourself any longer. Visualize instead that you are a young girl; old enough to know right from wrong, yet still young enough to be terrified by the dark shadows in your room. It is a cool autumn night, and your parent’s have decided to attend a party which you were not invited to – adults only. “It will be fine,” they say, but deep in your mind you already know what is to come. Your uncle has come over to watch you for the evening, and your parents are so pleased by the fact that they do not have to find a sitter.
As soon as he arrives, your mother kisses your cheek and scurries out the door to join your father already waiting in the car outside. You just want to scream, and beg your mother not to leave you. The nightmare begins. His slimy hands casually slide a video into the VCR as he smiles at you seductively. You can feel his eyes worming their gaze through your clothes every time he looks at you. You feel dirty and violated every time you think about what he does to you when you are alone. He walks over the couch and sits down next to you.
You just want to cry, but are scared to move an inch, afraid of how he might react. His hand slithers its way onto your knee and you cringe in revulsion. “Don’t be afraid, I won’t hurt you,” he chides. Your mind feels panicky as you feel his touch in more intimate places and you scream involuntarily. His grip tightens as he places his hand over your mouth. “We’ll have to do this the hard way! ” comes his intense whisper. You flail your arms at him, but it doesn’t help. His writhing massive body is on top of yours, and you feel so powerless.
Eventually, you sink into a sobbing heap and simply wait for his passions to stop. You wait for the nightmare to end. When he is done, you limp to the laundry room and try fruitlessly to get the bloodstains out of your clothes. What you have just experienced is one type of abuse that occurs millions of times every year across America – child sexual abuse. According to the Merriam – Webster’s dictionary, abuse is defined as “a corrupt practice or custom, or physical maltreatment. It is the wrong or incorrect use and treatment of someone or something, which causes harm, either physically, and/or mentally.
Abuse can take place in three different forms: physical, sexual, and mental. In our society today, the act of abuse is a common factor in everyday life. Estimates of abuse range wildly depending on the source of one’s information. The statistics on rates of child abuse and neglect are controversial. More often than not, the incidence goes unreported in all industrialized and developing countries. The most widely accepted estimate of sexual abuse is that one in four girls and one in eight boys will be abused before age 18.
There is no clear answer to the question “what exactly is child abuse? ” Seeking a proper acceptable definition of the word has been the center of controversies since the beginning of scientific research on this sensitive topic. Child abuse is physical, verbal, or sexual abuse that is done to a child. There are many differing points of view that must be taken into account in order to try to create a single, simple definition of child abuse. There is the point of view of the parent’s or adults in the general community.
There is the point of view of the courts, who must decide both whether and how to punish someone for their acts upon a child, and last, but most importantly there is the point of view of the child, the victim of the abuse. A common definition that is given for child sexual abuse is similar to the following: “child sexual abuse is any action perpetrated upon or nearby a child that is sexual in nature and disturbing to the child. ” Parents may find this definition too easily applied to parental affection.
It would be very easy for a stranger seeing a mother or father kissing their child to believe it was an act of sexual abuse, according the definition above. It’s not likely, nor desirable that parent’s will stop showing affection to their children. If that were to occur, then we would be introducing another way of hurting children, depriving them of affection they need to grow and develop into healthy adults. However, in today’s day and age, many parents have a fear that well-meaning strangers may misunderstand their actions.
Unfortunately, there are the instances when this does occasionally happen. The courts have an empirically verifiable definition for child sexual abuse in order for them to be able to convict someone accused – put simply, they need a definition that can be proven with hard, physical evidence. This makes a problem for all the children abused in ways that do not leave a mark. In my research, I came across this definition by author Jean Renvoize, who attempts to take all three points of view into consideration.
Her definition is as follows: Child sexual abuse is any type of sexual exploitation of a child or adolescent by any older person or adult for the stimulation and/or gratification of that person, which is not necessarily confined to physical contact and which may range from exhibitionism or involvement with pornography to full intercourse or child prostitution; where the developmentally immature victim lacks the authority or power to prevent her/himself being coerced into activities to which she/he is unable to give informed consent, which she/he does not properly comprehend but which – either at the time or later – the victim considers sexually abusive.
There are many categories of sexual abuse, which include incest, pedophilia, exhibitionism, molestation, sex (statutory rape), sexual sadism, and child pornography. It is estimated that approximately three hundred thousand children are involved in child prostitution and pornography. Many times men or woman who abuse children were abused when they were young. In this way, abuse is very much a self-fulfilling prophesy, or circle problem. Historically, sexual abuse was not as much of a problem as it is in modern times. Incidences of sexual abuse are highest in urbanized, technologically advanced societies. We hold this to be self-evident because the basic need of sexual drive is denied a constructive outlet in modern society.
In other cultures and times, prostitution was a valid form of employment, and this niche provided an integral outlet for connoisseurs of sex (ex. Nymphomaniacs. ) Without this vent, men with sexual frustration may turn to the less reactive child as sexual prey. Due to the black market prostitution of children, a twelve-year-old boy can earn upwards of a thousand dollars per day selling himself on the streets of Los Angeles. Mental abuse of a child can involve several different activities. Such forms of mental abuse include yelling, neglect, constant insults, and mental torture. Neglect is the most prevalent form of mental abuse. Neglect is the unlawful withholding of child’s basic needs.
Food, water, shelter, and clothing; these are all things that a child needs to live an effective life in today’s society. To deny a child these things is to leave him lower on the ladder of needs than he or she would conceivably be otherwise. Mental abuse is also another damaging forms of abuse, and like rape and other forms of sexual or physical abuse, mental abuse will be with you all of your life. If someone is always insulting you, always telling you are no good; then with time, your mind becomes accustomed to it, and you begin to believe it. This is especially a damaging consequence for young children and infants, who are dependent upon mental support as they are for their physiological needs.
Mental abuse not only affects the child, and the family, but society as a whole. Physical abuse is abuse to a person’s body, and has many forms. It may involve hitting or kicking of a child with the fists or the feet, or with another object; such as belts, bats, ropes, leather straps, broom handles, etc. Other forms of abuse include the pouring of scalding water or coffee on a child’s body, holding a child’s head under the water of a toilet bowl/bathtub, throwing a child against a wall, shaking a child with an extreme force, or placing parts of a child’s anatomy on hot or burning surfaces to cause pain. Some experts say that for every reported case of physical abuse over 100 cases are not even reported.
Nobody knows precisely how many children die each year from physical abuse at the hands of adults. One sad case that I came across in my research was the case of Terrell Peterson. “Terrell died January 15, 1998…he was beaten and near starved to death…his grandmother, aunt, and aunt’s boyfriend are due to go on trial this year on murder charges in what is being called one of the most horrific cases of child abuse ever seen in Fulton County. ” The state of Georgia’s child protective services is under investigation for the death of this child. Many times when a parent or guardian causes physical abuse, the child is not taken for medical help, even when wounds or injuries are very severe.
When they are taken to the hospital it is usually by a secondary member of the family, who may not have caused the abuse, but did not stop it either. This type of person might be called a facilitator. One can sit and wonder why these hideous acts take place. The most important factor to remember about abuse is that child abuse is never the child’s fault. There are both internal and external causes of child abuse. One possible internal cause is psychological and emotional problems. Adults who are unable to solve their emotional problems might transfer their anger and frustrations on a child by abusing the child physically, sexually, or emotionally. Some abusers might crave power, and need to feel like they control and dominate someone.
If this is impossible to achieve in any other fashion, they might turn to children, who unfortunately are very easy to dominate due to their trust in adults. For example, a mother who is suffering from severe emotional problems hit her child as she tries to solve her own personal problems. Another internal cause is depression and post-natal depression. Depression and post-natal depression can cause an adult to do something irrational at the spur of the moment. For example, a mother might hit her child unintentionally in her desperate attempt to make her child stop crying. Unresolved childhood trauma is also another internal cause of child abuse. Adults who are victims of abuse might perceive in their minds the same experience they had in their childhood as good or even normal.
Adults who had a poor role model on loving and parental behavior might find parenting a difficult responsibility and might retort to physical punishment as a mean to control a child. A father might find hitting his child against the wall as a good form of teaching because his father taught him in the same manner. One wonders “who would do such a thing to a child? ” It would be so simple if there was an “abuser profile” so we would know who might abuse our loved ones. Unfortunately, there is no such profile. The truth of the matter is, there is no real pattern among child abusers, aside from the fact that they choose children as their victims.
The majority of abusers are people that are acquaintances, friends, or relatives of the children. More often than not, parents who have poor parenting skills and who are ignorant of normal children development are likely to abuse their children. Parents who have physical disability or health problems that impair their ability to raise children are also candidates for being an abuser. Also prone to being abusers are adults who suffer from emotional problems, and adults who were victims (as the children are). The are numerous effects that children suffer from being abused, both short term, and long term. Abused children suffer from many social and emotional problems in their childhood, stemming from feelings of guilt and remorse.
In a study of more than 50 children, ages 2 to 13 years of age, examiners agreed that these abused children consistently demonstrated nine categories of traits, with child’s impaired capacity to enjoy life being the most striking. They found that these children were ‘pseudo mature’ and lacked the ability to play. In this study, symptoms such as enuresis (the inability to control bladder functions) and encapresis (fecal soiling) were classified under psychiatric symptoms. Another trait that these children shared was their unusual ability to adapt to a variety of people and settings. It was concluded that this ability was their ‘survival skill. ’ Another effect of abuse on children is their fear of failure. Abused children are particularly fearful of failure. It may be due to the children perceiving abuse as a deserved retribution for their failure.
Abuse children also often demonstrate difficulty attending to instructions, a behavior that carries over into school and is a common frustration to both teacher and pupil. Regression is often used by abused children as a form of defense. Children may find it more comfortable to return in some way to an earlier stage – a stage where perhaps they felt safer and nurtured. To cope with their situations, children might regress to baby talk and thumb sucking. Another trait demonstrated by abused children is their inability to verbalize. If being brought up in an abusive home, talking can be dangerous. Since verbalization is a step in cognitive development, these children suffer from inability to organize their thoughts and conceptualizing.
Poor language development might result if the child were not given the opportunity to converse. Low self-esteem is often prevalent among abused children. They are uncertain of themselves and are unable to trust others. This inability to trust themselves and others gives rise to other problems. Physically, abused children suffer from bruises, fractures, head and internal injuries, depending on the severity of the incident. Bruises include pinch marks and bite marks. Choke and grab marks often indicate that the child has been grabbed to be shaken. Fractures in infants under the age of 23 months and head injuries are often associated with abuse. Retinal detachment or hemorrhages are often caused by severe shaking (Shaken Baby Syndrome).
The most common type of burn often results from cigarettes. While it is possible that these burns are accidental, burns on the abdomen and genitals are more likely to be intentional. The long term effects of abuse on children are carried into their adulthood, into a more complex and heterogeneous forms. One long-term effect is the inability to enjoy life. Without the capacity to enjoy life, these children suffer from depression and guilt in their adulthood. For example, children who were sexually abused as children were unable to enjoy a fulfilling sexual life, even with their married partners. Another effect is poor social development. Abused children show a great impairment in social development.
They are unable to form peer relationships, with difficulty in expressing themselves. Social skills, for example sharing, which is part and parcel of social development were not learnt when they are young, giving rise to relationship problems when they are adults. This often leads to unfulfilling adult friendships and relationships, failed marriages, and poor parenting. Low self esteem gives rise to other problems in adulthood. For example, they are indecisive and are unable to make sound decisions. They experience high level stress when dealing with normal day to day decisions. Hampered language skills manifest itself in inability to carry proper conversations, a skill highly valuable in adulthood.
Unable to convey their thoughts at work and at home often leads to frustrations. The failure to empathize is also another long-term effect of child abuse. Since young abused children are unable to be aware of their own sufferings, the same child is unable to empathize with those of others. Insufficient care promotes health problems in later years. Nutrition alone has been tied to impeded growth, lower intelligence, poor teeth and a variety of other problems. Past victims often complain of physical problems that originated from their psychological and emotional history, as physical symptoms require attention – a right they may have been denied in their childhood. And last, is the inability to trust.
Isolation, based largely on their inability to trust others, is a significant problem for both the abusive parent and for victims of physical abuse. In an instant a loving mother would scream and hit. Many adult survivors are adept to anticipating and avoiding conflicts, while others flee from intimacy in fear that the closeness is synonymous with vulnerability to pain. In conclusion, we have gone over the most important points and facts about the different types of child abuse and what their effects are on children. Child abuse has always been around, and it will always be around as long s other people care more about themselves, than about others. The golden rule is the ultimate answer, the most dignified quest.
The last hundred years have only brought about changes in the discussion, description, and definition of child abuse. These things have helped do away with child abuse significantly, but the eradication of this most cursed disease is not in the sigh of those who look to the future. I leave you with this final quote: “The effect that child abuse has not just on the victims, but on their subsequent victims and on society as a whole, is, in my judgement, far more devastating than the threat of drugs, or political upheaval, of economic disaster, or of environmental destruction…I really think that child abuse is the most significant threat not just to the quality of life in this country, but to life in this country. ”