Children and youth who have experienced abuse are at risk for subsequent victimization. Additionally, those who have experienced abuse at home are more likely to become perpetrators of violent crime.
A number of forms of child abuse exist, including verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, negligence, and maltreatment. Although it is sometimes difficult to clearly differentiate between child abuse and parental discipline, the difference generally lies in societal norms and in long-term impact. Corporal punishment, or spanking, results in immediate pain but does not generally leave red marks or bruising. Abuse violates current conceptions of what is appropriate parental discipline in a given culture.
Child sexual abuse involves an adult utilizing his or her position of power to force or coerce a child into sexual activity. Sexual intercourse is the most severe form of sexual abuse. Sexual exploitation involves allowing, permitting, or encouraging a child to engage in prostitution; or allowing, permitting, encouraging, or engaging in obscene or pornographic photographing, filming, or depiction of a child.
Negligence refers to any act or omission that demonstrates a serious disregard for a child or youth. Negligent behavior results in a clear and present danger to the child’s welfare, health, or safety. Failure to provide adequate nutrition, clothing, access to education, and medical care are examples of negligence.
Emotional abuse includes actions or omissions that cause or could cause serious behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or mental disorders.
Although it is difficult to measure child abuse because it is notoriously underreported, data show it is terribly common. More than 3 million incidents of child abuse are reported annually in the United States, which means a report is occurring every 10 seconds. Almost five children die every day as a result of child abuse. More than three out of four are younger than the age of four years. One study combined childhood exposure to all forms of violence (including child abuse, domestic violence, and other forms of community violence) and found that 60% of children in the United States had experienced at least one type of violence.
Child abuse has significant, long-term effects. Abused children are more likely to have difficulties in school, engage in risky substance abuse, and experience depression, suicidal behavior, promiscuity, anger/aggression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Exposure to domestic violence in the home is also damaging. The United Nations’ Secretary General’s Study of Violence Against Children in 2006 found a staggering 275 million children worldwide are exposed to violence in the home. Children who experience domestic violence in the home are also more likely to be abused themselves. Both experiences increase the likelihood that they will continue the cycle of abuse as adults. Approximately 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children.
Children who have been abused are significantly more likely to end up in juvenile detention or prison. Children who experience child abuse and neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as juveniles, 28% more likely to be arrested as adults, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime. Fourteen percent of all men in prison in the United States were abused as children, and 36% of all women in prison were abused as children.
Exposure to or experience of abuse dramatically increases the individual’s risk of engaging in substance abuse. Children who have been sexually abused are 2.5 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 3.8 times more likely develop drug addictions. Nearly two-thirds of the people in treatment for drug abuse report being abused as children.
Several of the infamous school shooters reportedly experienced abuse when they were young. Evan Ramsey, who killed two and wounded two others at his high school in Bethel, Alaska, was said to have been abused by several foster parents. Brenda Spencer, known as the United States’ first school shooter, alleged that her father sexually abused her, although the allegations were never substantiated. Asa Coon, who wounded four people at his school in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2007, grew up witnessing domestic violence in the home, which has also been linked to some of the same adverse effects as has child abuse.
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- Child Maltreatment. (2003). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/resource/child-maltreatment-2003
- Langman, P. (2009). Expanding the samples: Five school shooters. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/
- Mignon, S., Larson, C., & Holmes, W. (2002). Family abuse: Consequences, theories, and responses. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- National Child Abuse Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.childhelp.org/child-abuse-statistics/
- UNICEF. (2006). Behind closed doors: The impact of domestic violence on children. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/protection/files/BehindClosedDoors.pdf