Child Abuse: An Exposition
By Dominic Ebacher
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 parents have opted to attend a party which you are not allowed at. "It will be fine," they say. Although you already know what is to come. Your uncle comes 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 you on the cheek and scurries out the door to join your father already waiting in the car outside. The nightmare begins. His slimy hands casually slide an ebony cartridge into the VCR as he smiles at you seductively. You can feel his eyes worming their gaze through your clothes every time that 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 to the couch and sits down next to you. His hand slithers it 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 blood stains out of your clothes. It is all your fault...
Abuse: The violation or defilement of;
What you have just experienced is one type of abuse that occurs millions of times every year across America. Estimates of abuse range wildly depending on the source of ones information. From one to two million children per year are victims of child abuse. (Dolan p.3) All sources agree on the simple truth that not nearly all cases of child abuse are reported or even estimated. Man cases go unreported, less than 50% by current estimates. (Dolan p.3) The amount of child abuse is staggering to think about, let alone deal with. By the age of eighteen one in three girls will have been sexually molested and one in six boys will have been molested in that same time frame. (WWW site). Although, throughout this paper we shall discuss not only the effects of sexual abuse but abuse in all its forms. These include Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Mental Abuse and Neglect. We will also Touch upon the basic question of this report, and that is, "How has child abuse changed over the last 100 years and what effects has this had on the family?" This brings us to our first research area, change.
It is clear that families are undergoing a number of important structural changes: families are smaller than in the past, with fewer children and sometimes with only one parent; parents have children at a later age; more couples live together without the bonds of matrimony which was accepted as a sacred bond so few years in human history. The source of this degradation of such a basic unit of society is unknown throughout all areas of research which I canvassed in my quest. It is a question that one person needs to answer for himself and solve for himself. Something a young child is not capable of doing.
Physical abuse has many forms. It may involve the hitting or kicking of a child with the fists or the feet, or with another object; such as belts, shovels, changes, ropes, electric cords, leather straps, canes, baseball bats, sticks, broom handles, or assorted large objects. 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, stuffed into running washing machines, throwing a child against a wall, shaking a child with extreme force or placing parts of a child's anatomy on hot or burning objects to cause pain. (Author's note: Sometimes in extreme cases the shaking of a child with such extreme force as an aggressive abuser possesses can cause severe brain damage as the brain is crushed from repeated impact against the skull. This type of injury is especially damaging in babies and small children.) Some experts say the For every reported case of physical abuse over 100 are not reported. (Dolan p.7) Nobody knows precisely how many children die each year from physical abuse at the hands of adults. The National committee for the Prevention of child Abuse in its annual survey of all 50 states estimates the 1,125 children died from abuse in 1988, a figure that, according to the Committee's report "most likely represents the lowest estimate of the problem." What is known is that reports of child fatalities resulting from abuse are steadily increasing... (Neal p.1) Many times when physical abuse is caused by a parent or guardian, the child is not taken for medical help, even when wounds or injuries are very severe. When they are taken into the hospital it is usually be a secondary member of the family, one who may not have caused the abuse but did not stop it either. This type of person might be called a facilitator. In the past, there was much more discipline in homes and schools then there is today. In one interview, I had the following response to the question, What do you consider to be abuse; as compared to punishment and discipline?
"Beating with a stick the size of a telegraph pole. Or forcing a kid to eat liver. That is what the government sees. I see it as abuse if the child isn't learning from it. Kids way back when were slapped on the wrist with rulers. They didn't go out and kill each other as many of the kids do
today." (Towle E-mail) Many people which I interview displayed one of two attitudes:
· No hitting or abuse was acceptable to them today
· More discipline is needed today than before
Many experts think that terrible pressures on today's family are partly to blame for the excess of abuse in today's families. (Dolan p.9) Physical abuse is termed sexual abuse when it involves the display or touching of genitalia or anything which is not a comfortable part of a normal person to person contact.
This brings us to our next form of Child abuse, that of Sexual or exploitive abuse.
Sexual abuse is described as those activities by an older person for his or her sexual gratification without consideration for the child's psychosocial sexual development. Also, as contacts or interactions between a child and an individual of higher power when the child is being used for the sexual stimulation of that adult or another. (Ruth p.4) There are many categories of sexual abuse, these 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. (Kempe p.9) Many times men or woman who abuse children were abused when they were young. In this way, abuse is very much a self fulfilling prophecy, 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 the sexual drive is denied a constructive (at least, less destructive) 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. (I.e. nymphomaniacs, and satirists). 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. Sexual abuse can have severe consequences on the mental development of a children. (Mental? Did someone mention mental?)
Mental Abuse of a child can involve several different activities. These can involved the common verbal forms, i.e. yelling, neglect, constant insults, etc. They also involve certain forms of mental torture and neglect. Mental abuse is one of the most damaging forms of abuse, because unlike rape or other forms of sexual or physical abuse, mental abuse will be with you all of your life. I would offer this analogy to shed light what I am trying to communicate here. Physical and sexual abuse are like roadblocks in the road of life. They are there for a while, but you get over them eventually. Mental abuse, on the other hand, catalyzes the disillusion of the view of the street. If someone is always insulting you, always telling you that you are no good: then with time, your mind becomes accustomed to it, and begins to believe it. This especially is a damaging consequence for young children and infants, who are as dependent upon mental support as they are for their physiological needs. It is an utter violation of such a relationship. Mental abuse not only affects the child, and the family, but society as a whole. In one of my interviews I received the following response to the question; What do you feel is the greatest misconception about abuse in today's society? "We still don't understand how much real damage it does, not only to the child but to society as a whole. Most people never fully recover from child abuse. Our society has never recovered from child abuse..." (Kimball E-mail) This brings us to our final area of discussion on the subject of child abuse, that of neglect.
Neglect is the most prevalent form of child maltreatment. "The statistics are staggering. A recent Study prepared by the American Humane Association states that, nationwide, neglect consistently has accounted for the greatest number of maltreatment reports; in 1988 alone it represented sixty three percent of the approximately two million cases of reported incidents of the three predominant forms of child maltreatment: physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect." (Steinbach p.8) Neglect is the unlawful withholding of a child's basic needs. Food, Water, Shelter, 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. Neglect is by far more prominent than any other forms of child maltreatment, but, continually it is the least prominent villain in child abuse advertising schemes. Why are people so unwilling to admit this problem? Why do Americans consistently look overseas and across borders when sending their charitable donations? The problem is here! It is not imagined. Unlike the demons who lurk in the darkness of children's closets, this villain will not vanish at the flip of a light switch. Many of these children do not have their own closets or lights...
In conclusion, we have gone over the most important points and facts about the different types of child abuse and what their affects are on children. We have tried to shed some light on this unspoken about, and shunned subject. The answer to the question which was posed at the beginning of this paper is vague a best and unanswerable at worst. Child abuse has always been around, and it always will be around as long as 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 of diseases is not in the sight of those who look to the future. I leave you with this final quote, spoken by a one Mr. Andrew Vachss.
"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 judgment, far more devastating than the threat of drugs, of 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." (Kesegich, p.33)
Lesar, Jenny. Statistics. Woodbridge, Conneticut: Blackbirch Press Inc, 1996
Kesegich, Ken. "In Defense of Children." Cwru February, 1990: 33-35
Steinbach, Alice. "Neglect: the most prevalent form of child maltreatment." Honolulu Star-Bulletic & Advertiser 30 July 1989: A-29
Dolan, Edward F. Big book of abuse. Anywhere, USA, Anybody Inc: 1312
Towle, Jeffery. Email Interview. 25 October 1996.
Kimball, Lisa. Email Interview. 30 October 1996.