Child abuse is a serious issue, which may impact an individual throughout his or her life. It is never too late to begin coping with abuse experienced in one’s childhood. Learn more about child abuse, ways to recognize the symptoms of abuse, and how adult survivors of child abuse can cope.
- Types of Child Abuse
- Recognizing Child Abuse
- The Effects of Child Abuse
- Coping and Recovery
Types of Child Abuse
Child abuse is when any physical act or neglect endangers or impairs the physical or emotional development of a child. There are three main types of child abuse:
- Physical abuse. When any physical act is committed against a child and results in a non-accidental injury that causes death, disfigurement or impairment of physical or emotional health, physical abuse has occured. Hitting, slapping, cutting, burning and shaking are just some forms of physical abuse. Physical abuse may be preceded by neglecting the child’s basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, clothing and medical attention.
- Sexual abuse. When any sexual act involving sexual contact, assault or exploitation is committed, sexual abuse has occurred. Child sexual abuse includes situations of fondling, rape or incest. Other forms of child sexual abuse may include exhibitionism, presentation of pornographic materials, treating the child in a sexually provocative way or the promotion of prostitution of minors.
- Emotional abuse. This is defined as a pattern of psychologically destructive interactions with a child, such as rejecting, isolating, terrorizing, ignoring or corrupting a child.
Recognizing Child Abuse
Child abuse can be identified through bodily and or behavioral signs. Keep in mind that examples of bodily and behavioral signs may not be present in all children, nor should it be assumed that a child with some signs is a victim of abuse.
- Physical abuse. Bodily signs of physical abuse include bruises, burns, bites, broken bones, bleeding, cuts, welts and more. Because children naturally fall, bodily signs of physical abuse can be tricky to identify. Do not make assumptions of physical abuse based solely on physical marks. Behavioral signs of physical abuse include fearfulness; a posture that is indicative of protecting oneself; vigilance; avoidance or unusually quick attachment to people; aggressiveness; self-destructive behaviors (such as running away); and destructive behaviors aimed at others (such as setting fires or hurting animals).
- Sexual abuse. Bodily signs of children who have been sexually abused include sexually transmitted diseases; genital infection; discharge; physical injury to or irritation of the oral, anal, or genital areas; difficulty or pain when urinating or defecating; and difficulty walking or sitting due to genital or anal pain. Behavioral signs of sexual abuse include an overly advanced understanding of sexual behavior (especially in younger children); age-inappropriate sexual behavior with peers or toys; compulsive masturbation; excessive curiosity about sexual matters; and prostitution or promiscuity in older children.
- Emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can be more difficult to identify since emotional abuse tends to be internalized. However, malnourishment, poor grooming, and inappropriate attire (such as no coat in winter) may indicate emotional abuse. Behavioral signs of emotional abuse may include a constant seeking of approval, extreme timidity, indecisiveness, self-criticism, fear of rejection and provocative or aggressive behavior.
The Effects of Child Abuse
Regardless of what age child abuse occurs, serious problems may develop as a result. The most recognized problems that stem from child abuse include:
- Relationship problems
- Low self-esteem
- Sexual problems
- Symptoms of trauma
- Physical problems
- Social alienation or isolation
- Difficulty expressing and handling feelings
Coping and Recovery
It is never too late to begin the process of healing. If you feel that you have been the victim of child abuse, take the following steps:
- Find a counselor or group. Your employee-assistance program (EAP) can offer referrals to local resources. Local rape or abuse hotlines can also offer referrals.
- Evaluate your personal safety. If you have self-destructive tendencies, such as hurting yourself or abusing alcohol or drugs, or if you feel you are in a threatening position, seek help immediately.
- Assess your current personal relationships. Are they emotionally and physically healthy? Is emotional, physical or sexual abuse present? If so, seek help immediately.
- Build a support system. It is important to have people around you to provide you with emotional support as you begin the healing process.
- Make your life as stable as possible. Assess the stability of areas such as finances, relationships, housing and physical and emotional health. Identify ways to improve any area of your life that may be less than adequate.
- Exercise, meditation, writing in a journal or taking a walk can be relaxing and beneficial for your emotional state.
- Prevent Child Abuse America: preventchildabuse.org
- Administration for Children & Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: childwelfare.gov
- Child Abuse Prevention Association: childabuseprevention.org
- Help for Adult Victims of Child Abuse: havoca.org