What is child abuse and neglect?
Child abuse isn’t just about black eyes. While physical abuse is shocking due to the marks it leaves, not all signs of child abuse are as obvious. Ignoring a child’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, exposing them to sexual situations, or making them feel worthless or stupid are also forms of child abuse and neglect—and they can leave deep, lasting scars on kids.
Regardless of the type of abuse, the result is serious emotional harm. But there is help available. If you suspect a child is suffering from abuse or neglect, it’s important to speak out. By catching the problem as early as possible, both the child and the abuser can get the help they need.
To start, it’s important to separate the fictions from the truths about child abuse and neglect:
Fiction: It’s only abuse if it’s violent.
Truth: Physical abuse is just one type of child abuse. Child neglect, or sexual and emotional abuse can inflict just as much damage. Since the signs are not always visible, other people may be less likely to intervene.
Fiction: Only bad people abuse their children.
Truth: Not all abusive parents or guardians intentionally harm their children. Many have been victims of abuse themselves and don’t know any other way to parent. Others may be struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse problems.
Fiction: Abuse doesn’t happen in “good” families.
Truth: Abuse and neglect doesn’t only happen in poor families or bad neighborhoods. These behaviors cross all racial, economic, and cultural lines. Sometimes, families who seem to have it all from the outside are hiding a different story behind closed doors.
Fiction: Most child abusers are strangers.
Truth: While abuse by strangers does happen, most abusers are family members or others close to the family.
Fiction: Abused children always grow up to be abusers.
Truth: It is true that abused children are more likely to repeat the cycle as adults, unconsciously repeating what they experienced as children. On the other hand, many adult survivors of child abuse have a strong motivation to protect their children against what they went through and become excellent parents.
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