"Thousands of professors at hundreds of universities teach all manner of subjects, but there is not one single university chair for research into child abuse and cruelty to children. How strange, when we recall that the majority of the people living on this earth are victims of precisely that kind of treatment" (Grapes 48). Not only has child abuse become a continually growing problem over the years, but it has also become a subject that is often avoided and ignored by society. Child abuse is not only affecting society, but unfortunately it is affecting children across the United States physically, psychologically and socially; and it must be stopped.
Every single year over 3.1 million children are abused or neglected nationally ("Child Abuse: What..." n.pag). In fact, 2,000 children die annually just from child abuse and neglect (n.pag). It really is sad to think that every single day in the United States three or more children die as a result of child abuse or neglect (Kim 101). Child abuse is not only physically harmful to the child, but it also affects a child emotionally. In fact, there are four types of child abuse, emotional, physical, sexual, and neglect. According to Bruce Perry, chief of psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, neglect is the most common form of child abuse, accounting for 52 percent of all victims; while physical abuse accounts for 24 percent and sexual abuse only 6 percent (Grapes 39). The remaining percent is a combination of medical abuse, emotional abuse, and unidentified factors.
Emotional abuse, also known as mental abuse, verbal abuse, and psychological maltreatment can cause serious behavioral, cognitive, and emotional or mental disorders. It is often considered emotional abuse when a parent or care taker rarely shows
encouragement, refuses to speak to the child for days, or threatens to hurt the child. In addition, emotional abuse is very damaging to a child because it often lowers a child’s self-esteem. In fact, severe cases of emotional abuse include extreme or bizarre forms of punishment such as confinement in a closet or dark room, being tied up for a long period of time, or threatening and terrorizing a child. However, the patronizing doesn’t always have to be severe in order to damage a child. It can be as little as telling a child that she looks fat or any sort of belittling or rejecting treatment that can hurt a child emotionally. Even using derogatory terms to describe a child or habitually using a child as an escape goat and blaming a child can damage her self-esteem. People, especially children, need love and affection to help guide them and support them throughout their lives. They don’t need to be made fun of or to be put down.
Another form of abuse is neglect. Neglect is the failure to provide for the child’s basic needs; it can be physical, educational, or emotional. Neglect is the number one cause of abuse in America. In fact, in 1997 alone the number of confirmed cases of neglect accounted for 54% of the children. Neglect is not just forgetting to give a child her lunch money, but it is anything that can put a child in danger. For example, physical neglect can include anything from not providing adequate food or clothing, appropriate medical care, supervision, or proper weather protection to even abandonment ("Child Abuse: What..." n.pag). Because children are not old enough to support themselves, they need a person to care for their needs otherwise they will not be able to survive on their own. For example, in Gary, Indiana one woman taking cocaine left her 9 year old daughter locked alone in an unheated apartment for nearly a week in January. Because of
freezing temperatures, her daughter lost both of her legs from frostbite (Ito 25). Her daughter’s legs could have been saved if she had been taken care of properly. However, she was not given proper weather protection. In addition, children also need supervision because they don’t always know what’s right from what’s wrong. Even more, there is also educational neglect which includes the failure to provide appropriate schooling or special education needs and allowing excessive truancies.
"Not having a mother is the number one cause of neglect because an estimated ¾ of neglect and medical neglect cases are associated with female perpetrators" (Kim 102). Children need mothers, especially their mother’s love, and when a child does not receive love and affection she can also suffer from psychological neglect. Psychological neglect can include anything from the lack of love and affection, to spousal abuse, or even drug and alcohol abuse. In fact, one of the most important contributors to psychological neglect is never attending to a child and allowing them to participate in drug and alcohol use. In many cases, the child becomes in capable of loving and showing affection to others (Glaser n.pag). Unfortunately, according to Martha Farrell Erickson, a researcher of child abuse, "Neglect just slowly and persistently eats away at the child’s spirit until she has little will to connect with others or explore the world at all" (Grapes 41).
However, neglect is only one form of child abuse. There is also physical abuse which is the inflicting of physical injury upon a child. This may include anything from burning, hitting, punching, shaking, kicking, beating or any other physical harm done to the child. Although physical abuse is very dangerous towards a child, it is not always meant to hurt the child. However, at the same time, it not an accident either. For
example, it may be the result of over-discipline or physical punishment that is inappropriate for the child’s age. Nevertheless, whatever the case may be, there is never an excuse to hit a child because children are dying as a result of physical abuse. In 1997, the percentage of child fatalities resulting from physical abuse was at 51 percent; and of those fatalities 78 percent were children age five or younger and 38 percent were under one year of age (Kim 101).
One form of physical abuse that is very damaging to a child’s health is Munchausen’s by proxy syndrome, MSPB. MSBP is a form of child abuse in which parents, most often mothers, seek attention or sympathy by inducing illness in their children (Grapes 102). In many cases, people who suffer from MSBP appear to be model parents and tend to have a background in medicine which makes them able to induce certain disorders and fool healthcare professionals (53). However, MSBP is a very serious psychological disorder that can make a child’s life very miserable and painful. Another form of physical abuse is shaken baby syndrome. Shaken baby syndrome occurs when a parent or caretaker violently shakes an infant, most often in a fit of rage or frustration with a crying child (49). Shaken baby syndrome is also very dangerous because it causes the delicate veins in a baby’s head to tear and bleed eventually leading to swelling in the brain. It is also the most common cause of abuse related to death because it is difficult to detect with common symptoms such as vomiting, irritability, and lethargy (49).
Finally, there is sexual abuse, which is the inappropriate sexual behavior with a child. It can include anything from fondling a child inappropriately, making a child fondle an adult, intercourse, incest, rape, sodomy, exhibitionism, and sexual exploitation.
However, in order for sexual abuse to be considered child abuse, it must have been committed by the person responsible for the child, for example a babysitter or even a day care provider. On the other hand, if a stranger were to commit these acts of sexual abuse, it would be considered sexual assault and handled solely by the police and criminal courts. Unfortunately, "victims of sexual abuse are perhaps the most easily intimidated into remaining silent about their mistreatment" because they often suffer from feelings of shame and social isolation (Ito 42). Not only do they feel guilty, but they also fear that they will lose their friends. According to David Finekelhor, an expert in child abuse, "The shame issue makes it [especially] hard for adolescent boys to be in a group—given the stigma of homosexuality..." (43). Sadly to say, however, there are still over 90,000 incidents of child sexual abuse reported each year ("Child Abuse: What..." n.pag). In fact, every hour 17 chi!
ldren are sexually abused in the United States (Kim 101). Even more shocking, an estimated one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they even reach the age of 18 (101).
Child abuse, whatever type it may be, is damaging the world’s children. However, it is not the number of victims that society needs to be more aware of, but it is the causes of child abuse because that is what needs to be stopped. In fact, one major cause of child abuse is that stable marriages are being replaced by unstable "families." According to Colin Tudge, a science writer and research fellow in the Centre for
Philosophy at the London School of Economics, step-parents are one hundred times more likely to abuse their children than are biological parents (Grapes 92). He writes that, "according to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, step parents have little evolutionary interest in ensuring the safety of a child who does not share and will not perpetrate their genetic make-up" (92). This is causing more stress and a greater risk for poor health, low levels of education and intelligence, drug addiction, crime, welfare dependence, teen births, and a definite lower rate of success not only in school, but also on the job for both parents and children. Unstable "families" are much more dangerous environments because children often witness fights of infidelity and jealousy. In addition, parents are less likely to talk through disagreements and difficulties and more likely to use force and aggression. Not only do parents have poor communication skills, but they also tend to set inappropriate expectations of their children while also frequently abusing drugs and alcohol. Consequently, children are suffering because many adults are irresponsible and lack the commitment when comes to sex, love, and marriage.
Another major cause of child abuse is alcohol and drug abuse. In fact, according to the Department of Health and Human Services,
The link between substance abuse and child abuse has strengthened over the years. Parental abuse of alcohol and use of other drugs has been identified as a major factor contributing to child maltreatment [mistreatment] and death. It is estimated that nearly ten million children under age 18 are affected in some ways by substance abuse of their parents (Ito 24).
In fact, up to 80% of all family violence cases involve drinking (25). Unfortunately, adults’ alcoholism and drug abuse can lead to neglect and abuse as a result of impaired judgment, depression, irrational outburst of temper, and fits of verbal or physical violence towards children. In addition, adults addicted to drugs and alcohol often neglect their children, failing to provide them with adequate food, shelter, clothing and other material necessities (24).
Not only is alcohol and drug abuse a cause of child abuse, but there are also other causes of child abuse including unrealistic expectations of children, unemployment, and low self-esteem of the care-giver or parent ("Child Abuse Stats..." n.pag). There are so many parents that abuse their children because they have no sense of values, morals, or even responsibility. In fact, abusive mothers, especially young teen mothers, are often isolated and lack the parental, family, or peer support that is necessary to maintain their self-esteem and help deal with the stress of a child. This lack of support often causes a mother to become impatient, angry, and sometimes even abusive with their own children. For example, one young mother, Ann B., got pregnant and married at age 16 to her boyfriend. The stress of being young and having a family led to unhappiness, fear, and eventually outburst of temper. Because she lacked the parenting skills to properly care for her child, she would !
constantly spank the child to prevent it from crying (Ito 28).
Unfortunately, because parents lack the knowledge of proper child care, many parents hit their child as a form of punishment. In fact, spanking a child is often accepted by society. For example, at least 84% of the population thinks corporal punishment is necessary (Bender 32). In addition, according to a study done by Barbara A. Carson,
non-spanking parents tend to be perceived by neighbors, friends, relatives, and society as ineffective and their children as badly behaved (33). However, what they don’t’ realize is that as child continues to disobey the parent gets frustrated leading to more severe punishments such as kicking, punching, and even using an object (30). Children are not always easy to take care of as one mother found out,
I’m so ashamed of myself. I’ve slapped him in the past, but this time I really went berserk. That kid makes me so damned angry...You know, I always promised myself that if I had kids, I’d never raise a hand to them...I know what that’s like. It’s horrible. But without realizing it, I’m turning into that crazy mother of mine. I remember one time she chased me around the kitchen with a butcher knife! (Ito 32).
Not only did she allow the punishment to go too far, but she started to act like her mother who abused her when she was a child.
There are so many adults that physically, emotionally, and sexually abuse their children because they were abused themselves. In many cases, they are often unwilling and unable to admit their own upbringing was abusive and wrong. Instead, they find it easier and necessary to abuse their own children in order to justify or prove that their parent’s were right. As sad as it sounds, the severe emotional or psychological problems adults often experience from child abuse cause them to carry intense feelings of repressed anger towards their abuser which they tend to vent out on their own children through cruel or violent behavior (29). Another reason adults abuse their own child is because they honestly don’t know any better. They were brought up to believe that children
"deserve" a beating when they act "bad." They think it’s normal behavior. After all, many men and women often witnessed their own parents or guardians physically attack each other or them when they were younger causing them to believe that it’s ok to hit a person and that violence is the only way to deal with stress, problems, and feeling of anger. However, violence is the never the answer.
Another cause of abuse is poverty. Parents that live in poverty often experience high levels of stress, anxiety, frustration, and sometimes even depression because they feel that they are unable to provide for their own family. In addition, poor families tend to live in dangerous areas causing some parents to resort in physical violence or emotional abuse to control their children’s behavior in an effort to keep them away from neighborhood hazards. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, "although child abuse occurs in all racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic groups, physical abuse and neglect are more likely among people in poverty" (27). Because of the material hardships associated with poverty, parents are just unable to provide children with the basic necessities. Even more, there are just too many teenage parents who live in poverty or are often unprepared for parenting and too immature to deal with their child’s needs (27).
Unfortunately, things like unstable "families", alcohol and drug abuse, and poverty are dramatically affecting children across the U.S. Not only are children suffering from mood swings, poor concentration, anxiety, anger, hostility, poor self-esteem, isolation, and fear of abandonment, but society is also suffering. In fact, 97% of all delinquents have a history of severe physical abuse ("Child Abuse: What..." n.pag).
In addition, 80% of all prostitutes and 50% of all female drug users were sexually abused as children (n.pag). Most importantly, 33% of convicted murderers have a history of child abuse (n.pag). Child abuse needs to be stopped because it is causing children to runaway, abuse drugs and alcohol, and even fail or do poorly in school. Eventually children grow up having great difficulties holding jobs, maintaining relationships with their peers, and have a higher risk of developing mental health disorders. Neglected children, especially, struggle because more children suffer from neglect than any other abuse. On the other hand, some children appear to be "model children" because of their extreme desire to achieve perfection. However, in reality, they are full of guilt for loving their parents and they tend to take responsibility for the abuse only wanting to please their parents.
Society definitely needs to become more aware of the signs of child abuse because there are so many cases in which child abuse is kept a secret. For example, some children live in fear of severe punishment or they don’t want to destroy the family. In addition, many children will even keep it a secret because they honestly believe that they deserve it. As sad as it sounds, child abuse often goes undetected because it is frequently kept a secret. Many families will even go to great lengths to protect the ones they supposedly love,
I was raised in an upper class suburb outside the St. Louis. We had everything money could buy. From the outside, we looked like this perfect family. But from the inside...my father would go into these crazy rages. They usually came after a fight with my mother. He would just turn on whichever of us was
closest. He would take off his belt and start strapping me or my sister...across our legs...on our heads...anywhere he could hit us. When he’d start in, I’d always have this fear that he wouldn’t stop (Ito 37).
However, when a parent or caretaker is unable to explain the source of an injury or if there is fearful behavior of child towards a parent, it is often the most critical factor in the substantiation of child abuse (Grapes 24). On the other hand, other "warning signs" might include anything from unusual bruises, broken bones, or burns to aggressiveness, destruction of property, poor school performance and even cruelty to animals (Warning Signs 7). In addition, the child might having trouble sleeping, wet his pants often, abuse drugs and alcohol, and even have trouble trusting people making it especially hard to make friends. Most importantly, some children will even try to harm themselves whether it be committing suicide or experiencing some sort of eating disorder (7).
As one can see child abuse is very harmful and it needs to be prevented. Parents or caretakers who abuse drugs or alcohol should be offered a comprehensive rehabilitation program that centers on substance abuse treatment, parenting skills, job training, and physical and mental health care (Grape 61). In addition, society must help relieve stress on parents by helping parents with depression so they won’t take it out on their kids (Ahmann n.pag). They also need to be more aware of the different types of abuse such as shaken baby syndrome and Munchausen’s by proxy syndrome. Even more, schools should require more programs that teach children how to recognize abusive behavior when it occurs and encourage them to report abusive behavior to trusted adults (n.pag). For example, there need to be programs on sexual abuse and good touch/bad
touch. On the other hand, doctors should also be made more aware of substance abuse cases and any unusual or unexplained injuries (Bullock n.pag). They also need to be prepared for children who are often sick or hurt and constantly visit the doctor (n.pag). Moreover, mothers and fathers should investigate any suspicious injury or comments made by their child while investigators should become more aware of suspicious injuries or discrepancies between the parent’s explanation of an injury and the child’s. As Suzanne Somers once said:
The universal human impulse is to deny abuse, whether you perpetrated it or suffer it. But the price of silence and denial is far too great. Each story tells us that emotional freedom depends upon breaking the bonds of silence. To gain this freedom, the victims of abuse must find the courage to speak truthfully about their experience. One of the primary sources of their courage is our willingness to listen. This is the most important contribution we can make to the safety needed to deal with the excruciating reality of their lives (Ito 43).
Child abuse is a horrible thing and it must be stopped because it not only damages a child physically, psychologically, and socially, but it also affects society as a whole.
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