Abuse Information

Types of Abuse

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.

What is the definition of child abuse?

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.

What are the types of child abuse?

The four major types of child abuse are:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Neglect

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.

What is physical abuse?

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:

  • beating, whipping, paddling, punching, slapping, or hitting
  • pushing, shoving, shaking, kicking or throwing
  • pinching, biting, choking, or hair-pulling
  • burning with cigarettes, scalding water, or other hot objects
  • severe physical punishment that is inappropriate to child’s age

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.

What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse of a child is any sexual act between an adult and a child. This includes:

  • fondling, touching, or kissing a child’s genitals
  • making the child fondle the adult’s genitals
  • penetration, intercourse, incest, rape, oral sex or sodomy
  • exposing the child to adult sexuality in other forms (showing sex organs to a child, forced observation of sexual acts, showing pornographic material, telling “dirty” stories, group sex including a child)
  • other privacy violations (forcing the child to undress, spying on a child in the bathroom or bedroom)
  • sexual exploitation
  • enticing children to pornographic sites or material on the Internet
  • luring children through the Internet to meet for sexual liaisons
  • exposing children to pornographic movies or magazines
  • child prostitution
  • using a child in the production of pornography, such as a film or magazine

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.

Sexual abusers can be:

  • parents, siblings, or other relatives
  • childcare professionals
  • clergy, teachers, or athletic coaches
  • neighbors or friends
  • strangers

What is emotional abuse?

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.

Other names for emotional abuse are:

  • verbal abuse
  • mental abuse
  • psychological maltreatment or abuse

Emotional abuse can range from a simple verbal insult to an extreme form of punishment. The following are examples of emotional abuse:

  • ignoring, withdrawal of attention, or rejection
  • lack of physical affection such as hugs
  • lack of praise, positive reinforcement, or saying “I love you”
  • yelling or screaming
  • threatening or frightening
  • negative comparisons to others
  • belittling; telling the child he or she is “no good,” “worthless,” “bad,” or “a mistake”
  • using derogatory terms to describe the child, name-calling
  • shaming or humiliating
  • habitual scapegoating or blaming
  • using extreme or bizarre forms of punishment, such as confinement to a closet or dark room, tying to a chair for long periods of time, or terrorizing a child
  • parental child abduction

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.

Emotional abuse of children can come from adults or from other children:

  • parents or caregivers
  • teachers or athletic coaches
  • siblings
  • bullies at school
  • middle- and high-school girls in social cliques

What is neglect?

Neglect is a failure to provide for the child’s basic needs. The types of neglect are:

  • physical
  • educational
  • emotional

Physical neglect

Physical neglect is not providing for a child’s physical needs, including:

  • inadequate provision of food, housing, or clothing appropriate for season or weather
  • lack of supervision
  • expulsion from the home or refusal to allow a runaway to return home
  • abandonment
  • denial or delay of medical care
  • inadequate hygiene

Educational neglect

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 (psychological) neglect

Emotional neglect is a lack of emotional support and love, such as:

  • not attending to the child’s needs, including need for affection
  • failure to provide necessary psychological care
  • domestic violence in the child’s presence, such as spousal or partner abuse
  • drug and alcohol abuse in the presence of the child, or allowing the child to participate in drug and alcohol use

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