What exactly constitutes abuse? Emotional, physical, sexual abuse and neglect are all the most well known forms of child abuse. In addition, there is also fetus abuse, witnessing domestic violence and other violent crimes by family members. We've all seen mothers in a store with a difficult, sassy child get frustrated and spank the child. Some have slapped their child and others have grabbed the child and shaken the child firmly to get his attention. Is this behavior abuse? Clearly someone punching a child in the face is abuse, but there are other examples that can be kind of unclear. Lets look at the main forms of abuse to clarify things: click on a link that you are interested in learning more about, or just read through the website. If you want to return to the top of the page, simply click on the heading of a section.
Emotional and Verbal Abuse Physical Abuse Shaken Baby Syndrome Sexual Abuse Neglect Witnessing Violence Munchausen's by Proxy For Survivors of Abuse
Emotional and verbal abuse go hand in hand. Emotional abuse is any form of putting down another person, criticism that puts down someone, and body language that communicates dislike, intimidation, or aggression. Verbal abuse is any form of statements made verbally that puts down the other person. Calling someone names, putting them down, making hurtful comments towards or about them are all examples of emotional and verbal abuse. Verbal abuse is also emotionally abusive. Make sense? For example, if your dad called you "stupid" and constantly criticized you, by telling you that you were worthless and wouldn't amount to anything in life, such a disappointment, that was abusive. Many daughters are called "sluts" by their parents, which is also abusive. And we have all seen those, "if looks could kill" stares. This is also abusive.
In the child welfare system, children are not usually removed from their homes if parents or caretakers are "just" emotionally and verbally abusive. This is a general rule of thumb. However, there are cases in which the emotional and verbal abuse of a child is so bad that the Child Welfare System WILL step in. to protect a child by removing the child from the home. So it is possible that a child's well-being can be so badly damaged by emotional abuse that the child requires an outside intervention. It is just very difficult to prove in court, which is why there is so much reluctance to remove children from emotionally and verbally abusive environments.
Emotional abuse and verbal abuse usually are involved in physical and sexual abuse cases.
Physical abuse includes any form of physical punishment, with the exception of spanking. This exception does not include all forms of spanking. For example, many children are spanked with belts, hairbrushes, or wooden spoons. This is NOT spanking - it is physical abuse. A swat across the buttocks with an open hand is a spanking, but if an adult uses excessive force to spank or repeatedly spanks and causes bruising or other physical injuries, it is legally considered abuse. Very young children can be seriously injured by spanking because their bodies are so fragile. Adolescents should never be spanked. It crosses lines of sexual abuse when a child has developed secondary sex characteristics (pubic hair, underarm hair, chest hair, breasts, menstruation, etc.). There is a big difference between a parent who spanks a child's buttocks twice, with two firm pats because the child ran out into the street, and a parent who uses spanking to vent his/her anger out on the child. The motivation behind physical punishment is important. If a parent is punishing a child as a learning lesson and is in control of him/herself, this is very different than an adult who is frustrated and slaps or punches a child's face because he is having a bad day.
Anytime there are marks left on a child from being hit, punched, kicked, shoved, etc., an investigation can be requested and sustained by the Child Welfare System. The Child Welfare System will remove children who do not have marks, but these cases are more difficult to prove in a court of law.
Some cultures use practices that leave bruising on a child, but are not considered forms of child abuse. For example, some Asian cultures use the practice of coining, cupping, or pinching to heal their children's illnesses. Coining is when coins are pressed and drawn across the child's back at specific sites to help heal the child. Coining leaves bruising where the coins were pressed and drawn, and can have a very disturbing appearance to someone unfamiliar with this practice. But children who experience this healing practice do not experience a sense of abuse from it. In cupping, a bottle or glass cup is heated and pressed against the skin, on the back, stomach or forehead where it cools, contracts and "sucks out bad air" from the child. Pinching has a similar effect.
SHAKEN BABY SYNDROME
When you shake a baby, serious physical damage can happen to the baby's brain, and entire body. A baby's body is extremely fragile, and shaking causes the brain to bounce off of the baby's skull, causing bruising and major damage to the baby's brain. The damage can be so severe that the child can have permanent damage or die from the shaking.
See the illustration below:
The damage caused by shaken baby syndrome is severe, much more than people realize. Nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing a baby who has been shaken and, as a result, has severe, permanent neurological damage. The brain injuries can cause:
If the baby survives being shaken, some of the permanent damage that can result includes:
Symptoms to be aware of if a baby is shaken that indicates the baby is having shaken baby syndrome:
Any form of sexual contact with a child under the age of 14 is considered sexual abuse, unless the contact is between two children of the same or similar ages and the contact is not coerced or forced. Yes younger children can force other children into sexual activities. Children who are being sexually abused may learn that to abuse others gives them power, control and mastery over their own victimization, and thus are considered to be "sexually reactive." Sexually reactive behavior can become a serious problem later in life if it is not treated by a therapist who specializes in sexual reactivity problems.
It is normal for children to touch themselves, to pleasure themselves by touching their genitalia, and to engage in sex play, such as playing house or doctor. This usually includes exploration of "what I have and what you have." It is NOT normal for a child to engage in intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, fingering oneself or another peer, or simulated sexual situations. It is also not normal for young children to act seductive with adults. It is not normal for a young child to play "rape." If a child is engaging in adult style sexual behaviors, it is a very good indicator that the child has been a victim of sexual abuse. Young children shouldn't know adult names of sexual body parts, like "pussy," "dick," "cock," etc. They shouldn't be using adult terms and phrases about sexuality. It is more common for young children to refer to their "private parts," "privates," "pee-pee," etc. Some parents may have taught their children the correct terminology for sexual organs, but a child shouldn't be saying things like, "Let me stick my cock inside your pussy," for example. This is inappropriate knowledge that a young child should not be having normally. It is a good indicator that the child is being sexually abused. In addition, young children do not contract sexually transmitted diseases or become pregnant unless they are being abused.
Children who are entering adolescence may begin to masturbate (rub your genitals to experience a good feeling), flirt with peers of the same age and make jokes about sexuality. Pre-teens should not, as a general rule, be having intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, or behave in a seductive manner with adults. These are NOT normal pre-teen behaviors, although, many youth are engaging in sexual behaviors with peers as pre-teens, so it is important that pre-teens are educated about sexuality, pregnancy and STD prevention. Pre-teens and teenagers are especially good at pretending to know more about sexuality than they actually do, which can lead to many myths about sex and unnecessary fears as well as accidental pregnancies or disease infections. A pre-teen or teenager should have friends close to his or her own age. If a pre-teen is hanging around with a lot of high school seniors or young adults, he or she may be being prematurely exposed to sexual behaviors that he isn't ready to handle yet. Her emotional development is unlikely to have caught up with her physical development. This is especially risky for young teens because they want to be accepted by their older peers, but are not ready to handle the peer pressures that often come with hanging around this age group.
Sexual contact between an older teen and any child under the age of 14 is considered sexual abuse. If a 16 year old "plays doctor" with a 9 year old, this is abuse. A similar aged teen should not be showing his/her genitals or breasts to pre-teens, engage in kissing or any other forms of sexual behaviors with them. Most adult sexual offenders started perpetrating behaviors (sexually reactive behaviors) at the time of early adolescents or younger. Most of them can trace their victimizing behaviors to approximately age 11, during which time they typically bribed, tricked, or coerced another child into unwanted sexual encounters. In fact, many adolescents who molested children will say that they simply asked their young victims if they wanted to have sex. Their victims, not understanding what the teen was asking, may have said "yes" to sexual encounters, and later felt confused and scared about the "games" they played with older teens. It is important to understand that teen sexual behaviors with pre-teens or younger is NOT a form of sexual experimentation. It is a serious warning sign that the teen has a problem that will worsen over time if not treated by a therapist who is trained in working with teens who sexually abuse others. Rape and child molestation are NOT normal teen behaviors of exploration. This must be addressed right away to prevent worsening of the problem throughout adulthood. It DOES NOT go away on its own! ***
If you are a teen who has engaged in sex play with younger children or used manipulation or force to have sexual contact with children or peers, call me. I can help. If you are a parent who is worried about your teen's sexual behavior, you can also call me for this, I have extensive experience working with adolescent sexuality issues and sexual abusing behaviors.
Normal adolescent sexual behaviors include making sexual jokes with their peers, not adults, sneaking pornographic magazines to look at and laugh at uncomfortably with other peers, masturbating, being highly flirtatious with other peers their same age or slightly older, dating, and having sexual contact with similar aged peers. It is not normal for a teen to date a significantly older person. By law, any adult engaging in intercourse with a teen who is under the age of 16 is statutory rape, even if the teen consented. And, for 16 and 17 year olds, intercourse with anyone who is over 10 years older than the teen is considered child sexual abuse and exploitation.
It is NOT normal for teenagers to watch pornography with adults, parents or any adult who is in a position of authority. Teens who are highly sexually active may have been abused or are in trouble, especially if they are younger than 15. Normal sexual adolescent behavior does not include having sex for money or goods, taking pornographic pictures, routine usage of pornography, or "dating" an adult who is more than 10 years older than the teen, if age 16 or older. It is also not normal for a teen to watch others having sex. This is peeping, which is also illegal and a sex crime, although some kids to peep and it is experimental. The problem is, peeping and making obscene phone calls can be warning signs that a teen is in trouble and may go on to more serious sex crimes. If a teen has a sexual addiction, then peeping can a serious warning sign that the teen is fantasizing about darker sexual behaviors. Teens who make obscene phone calls, peep, masturbate regularly to pornography, especially hard core pornography need evaluation for more serious sexual problems. It is also not normal for an adolescent to have a fetish, such as stealing other people's underwear and using it to masturbate. It is NOT normal for a teen to have sexual fantasies that involve the use violence.
Neglect is a form of abuse that is made up of being denied your basic necessities, such as medical care, clothing, food, shelter, education, etc. It is illegal for a parent to keep you out of school and not provide you with home schooling. Home schooling must be approved by your local school district and meet the criteria set by them. If you are ill, it is your parent's responsibility to help you get medical care. A parent cannot lock you in a dark basement for punishment, nor can they lock you in a room for hours at a time. Denying you access to food, clean clothing, and your basic needs is a form of severe abuse. This is the number one reason why children are removed from the care of their families. A parent also should not deny you friends. Parents can restrict the friends who they let you see, but denying social opportunities is a form of neglect. Making children work who are under the age of 15 is also considered abuse. This is relative however. Parents who have their children help at the office is a good way of teaching children responsibility, but a parent who has a child work 40 hours per week or engage in hard labor that is beyond the child's normal capacity is abuse and illegal.
Witnessing domestic violence of any kind is also considered a form of abuse in California, if was traumatic for you. The only way this is considered abuse is if the child experienced emotional damage as a result. This can be assessed by a professional to determine if this type of abuse occurred. For most children, domestic violence is severely traumatizing, especially if the abuse was recurrent and aggressive, if it involved hurting animals, other people, including other children or involved sex. A child witnessing and asked to participate in abuse is also extremely abusive. Killing a child's pet is severely emotionally harmful. In general though, when professionals talk about witnessing violence, they mean physical fighting between parents or by one parent towards another, including homicide.
For fighting couples, It is critical for couples who are physically fighting to get help along with their children from a trained therapist or other similar professional. Pushing, hitting, slapping, kicking, name-calling, etc. are abusive, even between two adults who are doing it to one another. And, for a child watching it, it is extremely threatening and scary.
MUNCHAUSEN'S BY PROXY
If you have never heard of Munchausen's by Proxy, or don't even know how to pronounce it, you are not alone. It is a rare form of child abuse, but because there are survivors of this abuse, I wanted to include it here, for folks who have gone through it. If you are a survivor of Munchausen's by Proxy, you may be really confused about what happened to you, because so few people know about it. What Munchausen's by Proxy refers to is abuse by a parent or caregiver, usually a mother, who causes her child to become ill so she will receive recognition and praise by others. An example of this is the mother who holds her baby close to her chest to temporary suffocate it, then calls 911 for help because her baby isn't breathing. This is the most commonly seen form of this type of abuse. Other ways a caregiver might abuse their child through poisoning a child, teaching the child to have diarrhea, vomit or to feign other physical symptoms so their teacher will call the parent. A parent may express concern to medical professionals that the child has symptoms that the child doesn't have, causing doctors to give diagnoses that are not real. Some children have had repeated unnecessary surgeries, been given medications that are not needed, and have had other medical procedures done to them because a parent complains of a child's illness that is non-existent. In hospitals, a parent may worsen the child's care to create an emergency that the parent can respond to. The motivation in this form of abuse is always so that the parent can get praise and recognition for helping the child. Some children are disabled by the extreme "love" of their parents - so that the parent can gain sympathy.
FOR SURVIVORS OF CHILDHOOD ABUSE...
If you are a survivor of child abuse, whether you are a teenager or an adult, you may have long-lasting effects of the abuse you survived. These effects can include many things, such as problems in your relationships, distrust and suspiciousness of others, fear of being abused again, anger management problems, depression, substance abuse problems, trouble with your physical health and a whole lot of pain avoidance. It isn't uncommon for an abuse survivor to have significant fears of being abandoned, struggle with wanting to be totally independent, but secretly wanting to be dependent upon someone, and have troubles maintaining intimacy with another person due to fears of being disappointed or let down. You most likely engage in several pain-avoiding activities, experience times of a deep sense of shame and guilt, even if it is unwarranted, struggle with an underlying depression that is always just underneath the surface, or completely tune out all of your feelings until they explode. You may want to pull people into your world, but then get afraid and push them out again, or you may avoid close relationships altogether out of fear of being hurt. It is very common from survivors of childhood abuse to distrust the world around them, have a negative viewpoint of the world and approach life from this protective and guarded place, which interferes in your overall sense of well-being and happiness. Survivors may also feel like they are constantly living a lie, as though they are not able to be who they really are in the world, and have to keep up a false sense of self in order to function day to day. This eventually gets very tiring and will create a major crisis at some point in your adult life if it is never addressed. Therapy can be really helpful with all of these issues, along with other individual concerns you may have.
For male survivors... often your needs are underserved by the mental health community when you are a survivor of childhood abuse, especially if you have been sexually abused. There is extra pressure placed upon males in our society to just move on and let it go. "Don't focus on it," "don't allow it to impact your life," "big boys don't cry, don't be a crybaby," "you were lucky to have an older woman teach you about sex" - if you were abused by a woman. Unfortunately these messages are very harmful to male survivors of abuse. People automatically assume that male survivors of sexual abuse are going to become sexual perpetrators or homosexual. If you survived physical or sexual abuse, many people believe you will automatically abuse your own children or others. This is NOT true. This is known as the "vampire myth" - once bitten you are a "vampire" who will "bite" others. This doesn't have to be the case, and the majority of boys who were abused do NOT grow up to be abusers. There is additional pressure placed upon males who have survived early childhood abuse of all forms that does not exist for female survivors. This does NOT mean that the abuse did not impact you. In fact, the pressure of having to cope without being able to resolve these past problems can have a significant impact on your adult life and happiness. I have a lot of experience and training in working with adolescent and adult male survivors. Call me, I can help!