National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse estimated
3,126,000 reported child abuse victims in 1996, as compared to
1,919,000 in 1985. This does not include cases of abuse that were not
reported. (Wang & Daro, 1997).
1996, an estimated 1,046 children died from abuse and neglect. In
other words, almost three children died daily in the U.S. as a
result of maltreatment. This signifies a 20% increase from 1985. (IBID.).
sexual abuse offenders are not strangers, but persons that the
abused child knows and trusts. (PACER Center Inc., 1990.)
1874, the abuse of a child by her parents was brought to the attention
of Henry Bergh, the founder and president of the Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (S.P.C.A.). Without any statutes
pertaining to child abuse, Mr. Bergh could only acquire a lawyer an
pursue the case on the grounds that "children ought to be deemed
just as worthy of protection from abuse as dogs and cats" (Weller,
P. 57). The case, named after the abused child, became known as
the "Little Mary Ellen Case" and went to court on April 10,
1874, providing for the establishment of the Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Children (S.P.C.C.) in 1875. A year later,
the S.P.C.A. and the S.P.C.C. merged, forming the American Humane
Association (A.H.A.) which has pioneered standards for the protection
of children and animals since its formation.
Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974
has further served the needs of abused children throughout the U.S. in
many ways including: providing financial assistance to child abuse
prevention and treatment programs; establishing a National Center on
Child Abuse; and providing resources for research to prevent child
abuse does not discriminate. It spans all racial, gender,
socio-economic and demographic boundaries. While it may be more likely
to be reported and thus reflected in greater numbers of cases
involving lower income families, it is by no means a problem limited
to members of one economic or racial group.
recent years, public awareness of child abuse has been heightened by
highly publicized cases such as the brutal beating death of Lisa
Steinberg in New York City by her adoptive father, attorney Joel
Steinberg. Yet many cases of child abuse continue to go unreported and
many signs of abuse remain undetected.
abuse rarely occurs as a single incidence. Abuse usually manifests
itself as a pattern of events which can start as early as infancy and
as late as adolescence. Often abused children don’t realize that
there is anything abnormal or wrong in their family. As they are
brought up not knowing anything different, what they experience they
assume to be what everyone else experiences (Ackerman and Graham,
can produce low self-esteem, aggressive behavior, acting out, suicidal
tendencies, running away, wariness of adults, withdrawal, inhibition,
and school and social adjustment problems. As symptoms combine, they
can develop into codependancy. Abused teens learn to cope. Coping
mechanisms include caretaking — growing up quickly and taking care
of the house, keeping it running smoothly and trying to be
"good." They can also withdraw and isolate themselves,
trying not to be noticed. Sometimes teens will equate their abuse with
love, when the only attention they receive is abuse, some teens will
provoke it, searching for the attention they receive as a result (Ackerman
and Graham, 1990).
often children and teens will not talk about their abuse. They will
protect their abuser, making excuses for their injuries. For this
reason, it is often hard to uncover abuse. Detection of abuse takes
careful observation over a period of time. Just as unreported and
undisclosed abuse is unjust, so is the unfounded an inaccurate
reporting. A false report is devastating and lasting, the stigma stays
long after the report has been cleared. Therefore it is important that
careful investigation is done before accusations are made.
is, sometimes, a fine line between what distinguishes between abuse
and harsh, if appropriate, punishment. This confusion about what
constitutes abuse may influence the high level of under-reporting.
Abuse of children can be divided into four categories:
abuse is often the most recognizable form of abuse, as visible
physical indications may be evident. It can be defined as "an
injury or a pattern of injuries to a child that is
non-accidental." Included in this definition may be the following
or dry burns (Pacer, 1990).
abuse can be as emotionally traumatizing as it is physically
traumatizing. The betrayal that the child will associate with a
trusted parental figure hurting them can be devastating. It is also
usually accompanied by emotional abuse, the physical assaults being
interspersed with verbal insults and unreasonable expectations.
Physical abuse can lead to delayed development, learning disorders,
motor disorders, mental retardation, hearing loss or poor physical
one of the more difficult forms of abuse to identify, emotional abuse
can be described as the "willful destruction of significant
impairment of a child’s competence" (Pacer, 1990).
Emotional abuse can include: name-calling, ridicule, degradation,
exacerbating a fear, destroying personal possessions, torture or
destruction of a pet, excessive criticism, inappropriate, excessive
demands, withholding of communications, or routine labeling or
victim may react by separating him or herself from the abuser, or
internalizing the abusive message. In the case of sibling emotional
abuse, the child may also redirect the abuse and abuse another
sibling, or fight back by insulting and degrading the abuser (Wiehe,
1990). Since emotional abuse involves a failure to meet the
emotional needs of the child, most of the consequences are due to the
psychological component of abuse. Emotional abuse often results in
abnormal or disrupted attachment development and a tendency for the
victim to blame him or herself for the abuse, leading to a learned
helplessness, emotional numbing and overly passive behavior.
Psychological abuse is often combined with other forms of abuse (Starr,
MacLean, and Keating, 1991).
and emotional neglect may accompany other forms of abuse, and may
result in long-term devastating consequences. Physical neglect
includes a "pervasive" situation where parents or guardians
do not or can not provide the necessary food, shelter, medical care,
supervision, and education for children under 18 years old (Pacer,
1990). Emotional neglect may also include deprivation of love,
stimulation and security.
it is often forgotten or overlooked, the majority of fatalities due to
child maltreatment are attributed to neglect. However, there are other
factors involved. Often neglect is correlated with poverty and it is
difficult to distinguish between what is immediately due to the
neglect and what is a result of the poverty. For example,
undernourishment may simply be an inability to afford the proper food,
or it may be a lack of effort on the part of the parent. Medical
neglect is also difficult to study since more than one factor affects
medical compliance. It is sometimes unclear if it is the parent who is
not attentive to the child’s needs, or if it is the child’s
unwillingness to cooperate that is the cause of the medical neglect (Dubowitz,
of a child for the sexual gratification of an adult encompasses the
terms child sexual abuse, assault and exploitation (Pacer, 1990).
This definition also applies to the abuse of a child by those not
legally considered adults. It may include one or more of the
to popular belief, the perpetrator of sexual abuse is not the stranger
and "dirty old man" of myths; he is usually someone that is
known to the child. All too common, it’s occurrence has been
estimated between 6% and 45%. Effects are numerous and can be
long-term. They range from depression and low self-esteem to
posttraumatic stress disorder, and multiple personality and borderline
and duration have been identified to mediate the effects of the abuse;
longer duration and higher frequency have been correlated with greater
trauma (Wyatt, Newcomb and Riederle, 1993).
important signs to look for in identifying all types of child abuse
of supervision or abandonment;
or speech disorders;
walking or sitting;
or bleeding in the genital area;
has been found that the vast majority of maltreated infants form
insecure attachment relationships with their caregivers which, through
development, tend to become anxious avoidant patterns of attachment.
The style of attachment has been linked to later adaptation and
development. Likewise, the development of an autonomous self esteem to
be low or unresolved, and children in abusive environments are more
"aggressive, frustrated, and noncompliant" than normal. They
are also slow in developing external awareness and differentiation of
inanimate and animate objects, and their social skills are immature or
dysfunctional (Wolfe and McGee, 1991). This indicates that
beyond the immediate abuse, there are short and long term effects of
the abuse that affect the general development and emotional health of
the abused child.
Cycle of Abuse
is important to note that a parent or guardian is at a
substantially greater risk of abusing a child if he or she was abused.
Increased substance abuse has also been attributed to the incessant
rise in cases of child abuse.
and reporting to proper officials — such as the police and local
social services — are among the components essential to breaking the
cycle of abuse that continues to plague America’s children.
Robert J. And Dee Graham. (1990). Too Old to Cry: Abused Teens in
Today’s America. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: HIS and TAB
Howard. (1991). "The Impact of Child Maltreatment on
Health." The Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect. Starr,
Raymond H. Jr., and David A. Wolfe, ed. New York, NY: The Guilford
Raymond H., Darla J. MacLean, and Daniel P. Keating. (1991).
"Life-Span Development of Child Maltreatment." The
Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect, Starr, Raymond H. Jr., and
David A. Wolfe, ed. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Ching-Tun & Deborah Daro. (1997) Current Trends in Child Abuse
Reporting and Fatalities: The Results of the 1996 Annual Fifty State
Survey. Chicago, IL: National Center on Child Abuse prevention
Research, National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse.
Vernon R. (1990). Sibling Abuse: Hidden Physical, Emotional and
Sexual Trauma. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
David A. and Robin McGree. (1991) "Assessment of Emotional Status
Among Maltreated Children." The Effects of Child Abuse and
Neglect. Starr, Raymond H. Jr., and David A. Wolfe, ed. New York,
NY: The Guilford Press.
Gail Elizabeth, Michael D. Newcomb, and Monika H. Riederle. (1990). Sexual
Abuse and Consensual Sex. Newberry Park, CA: Sage Publications,
additional information please contact:
25 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Clearinghouse on Child Abuse & Neglect
P.O. Box 1182
Washington, DC 20013
Committee to Prevent Child Abuse
332 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60604
A Program of the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Copyright © 1997 by the National Center for Victims of Crime.
This information may be freely distributed, provided that it is
distributed free of charge, in its entirety and includes this