Defining Child Abuse

Defining Child Abuse

Defining Child Abuse

It is difficult defining child abuse, when researching what has been written, to find a single definition of child abuse, which fully explains its breadth and depth, below is a definition that has been formulated from a number of sources and brings together a range of ideas relating to the abuse of children.

The abuse of children occurs when there is deliberate or non-deliberate mistreatment or when the actions (either direct or indirect) of an individual or organisation fail to protect children from significant harm or adversely affects their physical, psychological, and emotional development or well-being.

Abuse can occur in any child/adult or child/child relationship and can be targeted at one or more children.

Where there is a relationship between a child and an adult there is usually a dependence of the child on the adult, which places the adult in a position of power over the child.  If that adult wishes to abuse this imbalance of power in the relationship for anything other than educational or developmental reasons, then this can readily lead to abuse.

It is extremely serious if somebody in the position of power or authority in any setting or capacity carries out abuse.  It is totally unacceptable for individuals to use their position of power to undermine and abuse children.

Abuse is just as serious whether occurring due to ignorance, or as a deliberate act.  In either case the impact on the child is the same.

The range of adults that carry out child abuse is vast, in fact it is probably limitless.  Some examples of the kind of people who are in a position where they can carry out child abuse are; a carer, partner, relative, friend and volunteer (e.g. youth group leader or sports coach) employee, teacher and parent.

A couple of very well documented and common features of child abuse are that:

  • The majority of child abuse takes place in the home by other family members
  • Child abusers are often individuals, who were themselves abused as children.

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The Hidden Face

One of the biggest problems in determining the presence of child abuse is the fact much of it goes unnoticed and/or unreported. This can be for a number of reasons, some of which are:

  • Children rarely report abuse themselves, as from their perspective, what the adult subjects them to is “normal.”  This is because children often have little or no life-experience with which to compare the behaviour and thus understand its inappropriateness.  It is only once they grow up, they realise that certain behaviour towards them was wrong.
  • Abuse rarely happens in the open and is, therefore unseen. It is often delivered under a veil of secrecy, with the child encouraged and even forced to accept and continue the secrecy.
  • Third parties will often not accept that abuse is taking place. On occasions, even if a child reports abuse by a family member to another family member, there is usually a reluctance to believe the child and accept that abuse could be taking place.

It can be difficult to detect the signs of an abused child.  A good indicator, however, are the warning signs that an abuser gives away through inappropriate behaviour. Being aware of this kind of behaviour can help in recognising a child that may be at risk.

While not all abusive adults will show the same behaviour signs, or display similar tendencies, if several behavioural warnings signs are present, there is a strong chance that abuse may be taking place.  In general, the more signs that are present, the greater the likelihood of violence or harm.

In some cases, an abusive adult will demonstrate only a couple of behavioural warning signs that be recognised, but these signs are often very exaggerated.  For example, being excessively jealous over silly things. Often an abuser will try to explain to his/her behaviour as an indication of his/her love and concern.

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