Child Abuse

1 What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse refers to any intentional physical, sexual or emotional harm or maltreatment to a child under 18.

It includes:

  • Physical abuse: Child abuse is said to occur if any person, known or unknown to the child, physically harms or exposes the child to a potentially harmful situation.
  • Sexual abuse: Sexual child abuse is an act that involves a child in any sexual activity such as fondling, oral-genital contact, intercourse or exposure to child pornography.
  • Emotional abuse: Emotional child abuse is an act that hurts a child's emotions. It includes activities like isolating, ignoring or rejecting a child.
  • Medical abuse: Any intentional activity that puts a child at a risk of a medical condition is called medical child abuse.
  • Neglect: Child neglect refers to negligence of a parent, a caretaker or anyone responsible, which may result in missed or inadequate food, shelter, affection, supervision, education or medical care to the child.

Most often, child abusers are the people close to the child like a parent or other relative.

2 Symptoms

Psychological trauma is the main symptom of Child abuse.

Psychological trauma of child abuse can manifest in the form of guilt, shame or confusion. Often, the child holds back and tries to keep the act of abuse a secret, especially if the abuser is someone s/he knows like a parent, other relative or family friend.

The warning signs observed in a victim of child abuse are:

  • Social alienation and withdrawal
  • The victim seems self-absorbed
  • Behavioral changes such as aggressiveness, anger, hostility or hyperactivity
  • Sudden changes in academic performance often on the lower side
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Feeling low, depressed or unreasonable fears
  • Sudden loss of self-worth and self-esteem
  • Missing classes too often without any apparent reason
  • Rebellious or defiant behavior
  • Suicidal attempts

The signs and symptoms vary depending upon the nature of the victim and degree of abuse. The presence of warning signs doesn't confirm the event of abuse but should be closely monitored.

Physical abuse signs and symptoms

  • Visible injuries, such as bruises, fractures or burns
  • Unexplained injuries

Sexual abuse signs and symptoms

  • Irrelevant sexual behavior or knowledge
  • Pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection
  • Blood in the child's underwear
  • Statements indicative of sexual abuse
  • Problems while walking or sitting
  • Reporting pain in genitals

Emotional abuse signs and symptoms

  • Delayed or inappropriate emotional development
  • Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Social withdrawal or a loss of interest or enthusiasm
  • Depression
  • Headaches or stomachaches with no medical cause
  • Avoiding situations that might have some link with the event of sexual abuse
  • Seeks extra affection
  • School performance may be lowered
  • Attempt to avoid school

Neglect signs and symptoms

  • Delayed growth and weight gain
  • Poor hygiene
  • Inadequate clothing or supplies that cannot meet physical needs
  • Stealing food or money
  • Excessive eating in one sitting
  • Missing school
  • Inadequate medical care
  • Irrelevant mood swings

Parental behavior: The signs and symptoms are not limited to the child only. Sometimes, parents’ inappropriate behavior could also signal child abuse.

Give attention to parent’s signs such as:

  • Not paying attention to the child’s needs
  • Not able to identify physical or emotional distress in the child
  • Blaming the child for the problems while rejecting the presence of any problem in school or at home
  • Uses foul words to describe the child
  • Believes in violence and physical abuse to maintain discipline
  • Expects the child’s academic performance to be extraordinary
  • Keeps the child in isolation
  • Tries to hide and unreasonably explain the causes for a child's injuries

Many parents are still using violence to maintain discipline. Any physical violence can leave a child in deep psychological trauma.

When to see a doctor

Seek immediate help if you find your child or another child shows signs of abuse. Call 911if the child needs immediate medical care.
After assessing the situation, you may contact the child's doctor, a local child protective agency, the police department, or a 24-hour hotline such as Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (800-422-4453). Note that all the suspected cases of child abuse should be reported to the appropriate county or state authorities.

Have a question aboutChild Safety?Ask a doctor now

3 Treatment

Early treatment gives an abused or neglected child the best chance for recovery.

To minimize the psychological trauma of child abuse and prevent lasting mental scars, “talk therapy”, also called psychotherapy is very helpful. A talk therapy helps restore child’s trust in relationships and boosts his/her self-esteem.

Often a combination of different therapies can bring better results.

Some other types of therapy that might be considered are:

  • Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy: An abused child can learn ways to manage stress caused by the abuse and recover from nightmares of the trauma. Over time, this can restore a child’s trust in relationships and maintain a healthy relationship with the non-abusing parent.
  • Child-parent psychotherapy: This treatment strengthens parent-child relationships and helps to create a healthy bond. The parents may be able to identify the causes of abuse and learn healthy parenting skills.

Social services can visit the place to ensure availability of basic needs such as food. Children staying at foster care may require additional mental health services and therapies.

You may report any suspected case of abuse to:

  • Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453)
  • Prevent Child Abuse America: 800-CHILDREN (800-244-5373)

4 Prevention

Some simple steps can prevent or decrease the risk of child abuse. Try to ensure your child grows in an affectionate environment where self-esteem and self-identity of the child are maintained and nurtured.

Here are some suggestions to follow:

  • Listen to what your child needs. Paying attention to the child’s needs, wishes and problems to create a strong foundation of relationship.
  • Keep your frustrations aside and don’t show anger in front of the child. Talk to your doctor about stress management.
  • Keep an eye on the persons your child is close to. Don’t leave your young child alone at home and be in regular touch with your child if s/he is old enough to go out alone.
  • Have a detailed knowledge about your child's caregivers. You may visit your child care homes without prior notice to observe what's happening.
  • Teach your child when to say NO to conditions that might put your child at risk. Focus on building a strong relationship to let your child open up in case any such events have happened.
  • Limit your child’s online activity: Keeping the computer in a common room may provide you the opportunity to have a closer look upon what your child is doing online. Set aside a specific time for your children to use internet or social networking sites. If your child seems to hide anything, be cautious and act wisely. Report online harassment or inappropriate senders to your service provider and to local authorities, if necessary.
  • Socialize: Stay in touch with the people in your neighborhood, including parents and children. You may join a parent support group and find an appropriate place to release stress.

Talk to your doctor if you think you might abuse your child or contact Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453) Prevent Child Abuse America: 800-CHILDREN (800-244-5373).

Consult your doctor if you have problems with drug/alcohol abuse. Come out and ask for help as child abuse is preventable.

5 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary for your child in order to cope with Child abuse trauma.

If you come to know that your child is being abused, take serious actions to protect your child from the trauma.

Here are some suggestions that might help you:

  • Provide a supporting environment where you child can open up and tell you what happened. Listen to your child attentively and show your support to the child. Do not let your child feel guilty for the abuse. Make him/her convinced that the abuser is responsible for whatever happened.
  • Report the abuse: File a report against the suspect of abuse at a local child protective agency or the police department.
  • Seek medical attention: If any injury is present, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Provide a sense of security to your child: Take your child away from the abuser and maintain necessary security measures.
  • Consider additional support: You may take your child to the facilities that provide counseling and other support to the victims.

6 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with Child abuse.

A person with following conditions is more likely to be abusive:

  • History of being abused or neglected as a child
  • Physical or mental illness, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Family crisis or stress, including domestic violence and other marital conflicts, single parenting, or young children in the family, especially several children under age 5
  • Having a physically disabled child in the family
  • Financial stress or unemployment
  • Social isolation
  • Poor understanding of child development and parenting skills
  • Alcohol and substance abuse

Children who are abused can overcome the effects of abuse if proper care is provided at the right time.

However, not all the victims are lucky enough, abuse can leave the scars persisting for years, such as:

Physical issues

  • Death
  • Physical disabilities and health problems
  • Learning disabilities
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Substance abuse

Behavioral issues

  • Violent behavior
  • Abuse of others
  • Social withdrawal
  • Suicide attempts or self-injury
  • High-risk sexual behaviors or teen pregnancy
  • Limited social and relationship skills

Emotional issues

  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty establishing or maintaining relationships
  • Challenges with intimacy and trust
  • An unhealthy view of parenthood that may perpetuate the cycle of abuse Inability to cope with stress and frustrations
  • An acceptance that violence is a normal part of relationships
  • Mental disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Attachment disorders
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