Child abuse is both shocking and commonplace. Child abusers inflict physical, sexual, and emotional trauma on defenseless children every day. The scars can be deep and long-lasting. Unfortunately, the more subtle forms of child abuse such as neglect and emotional abuse can be just as traumatizing as violent physical abuse. Focused support can help both the victims of child abuse and the child abusers themselves.
Child abuse consists of any act or failure to act that endangers a child’s physical or emotional health and development. A person caring for a child is abusive if he or she fails to nurture the child, physically injures the child, or relates sexually to the child.
Another type of abuse is child exploitation (distinct from sexual exploitation). This is the use of a child in work or other activities for the benefit of others. Child labor is an example of child exploitation for commercial reasons. Using a child in this way detracts from their own physical, mental, and social development.
Physical abuse is any non-accidental physical injury to a child. Even if the parent or caretaker who inflicts the injury might not have intended to hurt the child, the injury is not considered an accident if the caretaker’s actions were intentional. This injury may be the result of any assault on a child’s body, such as:
Corporal (physical) punishment is distinguished from physical abuse in that 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. Physical abuse is an injury that results from physical aggression. However, physical punishment easily gets out of control and can become physical abuse. Corporal punishment is against the law in schools in some states, but not in others. In many families, physical punishment is the norm.
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 of a child is any sexual act between an adult and a child. This includes:
The above acts are considered child abuse when they are committed by a relative or by a caretaker, such as a parent, babysitter, or daycare provider, whether inside the home or apart from the home. (If a stranger commits the act, it is called sexual assault.)
The legal age of consent for two people to have sexual relations ranges from twelve to twenty-one, and varies by state within the United States and by country. In most states, having sex with a person younger than the legal age of consent is against the law. Even if the two parties agree to the sexual relationship, it is still against the law. Each state is very specific as to its laws about sex with minors.
Sexual abuse is especially complicated because of the power differential between the adult and child, because of the negotiations that must occur between adult and child, and because the child has no way to assimilate the experience into a mature understanding of intimacy. 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 abuse is any attitude, behavior, or failure to act on the part of the caregiver that interferes with a child’s mental health or social development.
Emotional abuse is almost always present when another form of abuse is found. Some overlap exists between the definitions of emotional abuse and emotional neglect; regardless, they are both child abuse.
Physical neglect is not providing for a child’s physical needs, including:
Educational neglect is the failure to enroll a child of mandatory school age in school or to provide necessary special education. This includes allowing excessive truancies from school.
Emotional neglect is a lack of emotional support and love, such as:
When authorities examine emotional neglect, they take into consideration cultural values and standards of care, as well as the level of family income, which may interfere with proper care.
Some overlap exists between the definitions of emotional abuse and emotional neglect; regardless, they are both child abuse.
* Source: Helpguide.org