Child Abuse

Child abuse is a national emergency in the United States.  There were nearly 60,000 reported cases of child abuse in 1974.  In 1980, that number rose to 1.1 million and by 1990, it more than doubled to 2.4 million. Child abuse includes any kind of mistreatment that retards a child’s physical or psychological development or that directly reduces his/her self-esteem.  It can take the form of…

Physical Abuse

  • Neglect  –  Deprivation of basic physical human needs such as food, water or shelter.  Neglected children often suffer from dehydration, malnutrition, pneumonia and general poor health.
  • Battering –  Actual bodily attacks and beatings, including drowning and choking attempts.  Battered kids suffer from bruises, broken bones, internal bleeding and often death.
  • Sexual Abuse –  One of the most common forms of child abuse is molestation.  Four  of every 10 girls and one of every 10 boys are victims of child sexual abuse. Most sexual abuse happens between the ages of 9 & 12 (although 2 and 3 year-olds is not unusual). The abuser is almost always a man – often a relative or family friend, someone the child respects as an authority figure: for 29% of the women who are sexually abused before the age 18, their father was their first abuser.

The trauma of sexual abuse lingers long after the event.  Many youngsters develop post-traumatic stress disorder causing nightmares, flashbacks, withdrawal, verbal outbursts, and physical symptoms such as sweating and racing heartbeats.  Other symptoms linked to sexual abuse include:

  • feelings of self-hatred,
  • helplessness and distrust of others anxiety and somatic complaints such as chronic headaches
  • depression
  • compulsive sexual activity
  • amnesia or losing one’s train of thought during conversations.

Physical abuse contributes to chronic runaway behavior, delinquency, and emotional problems.  Because of their poor self-image, abused children usually lack assertiveness and believe that they deserve to be punished.

Emotional Abuse

Verbal abuse may not leave physical bruises, but it can permanently scar a child psychologically.  Parental indifference, emotional neglect and verbal abuse cause lasting psychological damage.  Abusive behavior includes:

  • Harsh criticism:  “Can’t you do anything right?  You’re stupid!”
  • Emotional deprivation, i.e., failure to fill a child’s natural needs for attention, praise and love.
  • Ignoring a child when he’s hurt or upset or minimizing his pain: “Stop your whining – you’re okay.”
  • Domination of a child’s every action and thought by telling him/her terrible things will happen if he/she explores and violates parent’s orders.

Abused children often mask their pain by bullying their peers and typically grow up with a negative, cynical attitude, expecting little from life and trusting no one.

Violent physical and sexual abuse are committed more often by men, but emotional abuse is committed equally often by women and men.

Life-long Effects

The long-term effects of child sexual abuse show up in the form of repeated, self-destructive behavior patterns:

  • Girls grow up having destructive relationships with the opposite sex, taking submissive role with men, afraid of them, and producing children who are abused.
  • Abused boys are likely to become offenders, themselves, molesting the next generation of children; often they are also confused about their sexual identity.
  • Nearly 2/3 of abused children are victims of rape or attempted rape as adults.


For more information on child abuse call the National Child Abuse Hotline, operated by Child-help USA: 1-800-4-A-CHILD.


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