Child abuse is maltreatment of children in any of the physical, psychological, emotional, and sexual ways. There are four major types of child abuse: physical abuse, psychological/emotional abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse.
Child abuse continues to be more likely recognized in economically developed countries than in developing countries. Because 1/3 of children who are abused, grow up to abuse their own children, child abuse is a serious matter that is a cycle among families and society. [1] According to Tennyson Center for Children, " Child abuse is reported on an average of every 10 seconds and three children die every day as a result of such abuse." [12]

Signs of Physical Abuse

Physical Indicators:
  • Unexplained bruises and welts on the face, throat, upper arms, buttocks, thighs or lower back in unusual patterns or shapes which suggests the use of an instrument (belt buckle, electric cord) on an infant in various stages of healing that are seen after absences, weekends, or vacations.
  • Unexplained burns, cigarette burns, especially burns found on palms, soles of feet, abdomen, buttocks; immersion burns producing "stocking" or "glove" marks on hands and feet; "doughnut shaped" on buttocks or genital area.
  • Rope burns.
  • Infected burns indicating delay in treatment; burns in the shape of common household utensils or appliances.
Behavioral Indicators:
  • Behavioral extremes (withdrawal, aggression, regression, depression).
  • Inappropriate or excessive fear of parent or caretaker.
  • Antisocial behavior such as substance abuse, truancy, running away, fear of going home.
  • Unbelievable or inconsistent explanation for injuries.
  • Lies unusually still while surveying surroundings (for infants).
  • Unusual shyness, wariness of physical contact.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
Physical Indicators:
  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothes.
  • Frequent, unexplained sore throats, yeast or urinary infections.
  • Somatic complaints, including pain and irritation of the genitals.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Bruises or bleeding from external genitalia, vagina or anal region.
  • Pregnancy.
Behavioral Indicators:
  • The victim's disclosure of sexual abuse.
  • Regressive behaviors (thumb-sucking, bedwetting, fear of the dark).
  • Promiscuity or seductive behaviors.
  • Disturbed sleep patterns (recurrent nightmares).
  • Unusual and age-inappropriate interest in sexual matters.
  • Avoidance of undressing or wearing extra layers of clothes.
  • Sudden decline in school performance, truancy.
  • Difficulty in walking or sitting.
Signs of Emotional Abuse
Physical Indicators:
  • Eating disorders, including obesity or anorexia.
  • Speech disorders (stuttering, stammering).
  • Developmental delays in the acquisition of speech or motor skills.
  • Weight or height level substantially below norm.
  • Flat or bald spots on head (infants).
  • Nervous disorders (rashes, hives, facial tics, stomach aches).
Behavioral Indicators:
  • Habit disorders (biting, rocking, head-banging).
  • Cruel behavior, seeming to get pleasure from hurting children, adults or animals; seeming to get pleasure from being mistreated.
  • Age-inappropriate behaviors (bedwetting, wetting, soiling).
  • Behavioral extremes, such as overly compliant-demanding; withdrawn-aggressive; listless-excitable.
Signs of Neglect
Physical Indicators:
  • Poor hygiene, including lice, scabies, severe or untreated diaper rash, bedsores, body odor.
  • Squinting.
  • Unsuitable clothing; missing key articles of clothing (underwear, socks, shoes); overdressed or underdressed for climate conditions.
  • Untreated injury or illness.
  • Lack of immunizations.
  • Indicators of prolonged exposure to elements (excessive sunburn, insect bites, colds).
  • Height and weight significantly below age level.
Behavioral Indicators:
  • Unusual school attendance.
  • Chronic absenteeism.
  • Chronic hunger, tiredness, or lethargy.
  • Begging for or collecting leftovers.
  • Assuming adult responsibilities.
  • Reporting no caretaker at home.

This information provided courtesy of Lorain County, Ohio Children Services. [13]

Historical Emergence of Child Abuse

In today's definition of child abuse, it is apparent that this particular social problem has been around for thousands of years. For centuries, it was seen that children were the property of their parents, meaning that it was the parents decision to treat their children how they see fit. Some peope even killed their own children as sacrifice. It was long ignored by authority, leaving it up to the parents to treat their children the way they pleased. It was not until the nineteenth century that the United States government began to intervene with parenting. The first public case surrounding child abuse was Johnson v. State in 1840. A parent in Tennessee was prosecuted for beating their child. A lower court convicted the parent, but a a higher court reversed the decision, saying "the parent must be careful that he does not exceed the bounds of moderation and inflict cruel and merciless punishment; if he do[es], he is a trespasser, and liable to be punished by indictment". [2]

With the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, children were sent to the factories to work, as were adults. Many children worked in deplorable conditions. There were very few regulations surrounding child labor, and many children were abused in the factories.
It was not until 1874 that a child abuse case became public. In 1874, there were laws that protected animals, but none that protected children. This changed when in New York City, a church social worker found 9 year old Mary Ellen who was malnourished, and beaten. Etta Wheeler was the social worker who fought for Mary Ellen, and all children. She contacted the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to get help from them to form an organization to help children. Wheeler help to found the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) in 1875, the first organization in the world that was created to look out for the well-being of children.With this first step of recognition and exposure of the issue, the United Sates goverment then started to actively take a part in this social issue. [2]

In 20th century, the federal government takes further steps in being involved with child abuse. The very first Childrens Bill of Rights were formed in first quarter of the 20th cenury. In 1935, the federal government provided child welfare services through the Social Security Act, making a big public exposure. [2]
Towards the end of the century, more specific definition of child abuse was formed and more apparant ways of reporting laws and investigations of child abuse became available. In year 1983, the government designated the month of April as the Nation Child Abuse Prevention Month. [8]
In 2003, PROTECT Act ("Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today") passed and became a law. [11]

Institutions' Roles

Prior to the 20th century, there was no term for child abuse. But as civil rights and humanitarian ideals came about, child abuse emerged as first an idea, and now a social problem. The institution in which child abuse was created, ironically, was by animal rights. No laws existed prior to the 20th century to protect the rights of children. Children in a sense was treated as little adults. But time passed on, humans gained knowledge about ourselves and began to see the cruelty of the treatment of children. Therefore, law or government, an institution help identify child abuse as a social problem.

However, the oldest of all institution is the family. The family concept is the oldest institution there is. Family either prevents or engages in child abuse. Since almost all cases of child abuse take place within the family, this institution is what keeps child abuse going. [3] For child abuse to end, all abusive families would have to be looked at and have the children taken. But it is near impossible to do this. Since the abuse takes place at home, without others knowing, child abuse can be very difficult to detect.[4]

With the emergence of child abuse, the family has been challenged. Since this social problem most often takes place within the family, it puts what some people see as the safest thing under scrutiny. How can family members willingly hurt those who are closest and related to them.

Another institution that came about in the 21st century was the introduction of the media concept. Newspapers, radio, television, and internet help keep our society informed. With child abuse becoming a hot topic, more and more viewers are drawn to child abuse. Media helps to create awareness on the subject, making it publicly known that this problem does exist. However, the media may also give a skewed look on what the reality of the situation is. The media may not always present a child abuse story with the right facts.[5]
When it comes to child abuse, there is a lack of education on the subject. Those who have never experienced abuse in any way hardly know what its like to be abused. It can be hard to detect if there are no bruises to see. This makes detecting and ending child abuse very difficult.The institution of education is one way that helps to perpetuate child abuse. Since there is a lack of education, people do not know what child abuse is or what it can look like to an outsider. The lack of education on the subject helps to keep child abuse alive in our society.

Consequences of Child Abuse

child abuse and neglect bar and pie charts
child abuse and neglect bar and pie charts

The pain that a child can receive from child abuse is vast. Along with physical pain, and long-lasting injuries, children who are abused also suffer from mental pain. Children are left wondering why they deserved to be abused, and what they did to receive this life.Child abuse pain lasts a life-time. Children who are abused grow up with the pain of the abuse. The lasting effects can be physical, mental, and psychological. [6]

Children who are child abused may suffer from physical, mental, emotional, and psychological damage. Physical damage as in deformities in the body, bruises, cuts, physical damages on the body. Mental damage refers to the ability to think and function within social norm. For example a baby who has been shaken may suffer brain damage and mental problems might appear in later life. Emotional damage refers to the children withdrawn from society or vice versa. They may be unusually shy, unusually proactive, or just emotionally sensitive.
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A solution for child abuse would be to have more education on the matter available. Teachers need to be educated on what the common signs of child abuse are, so they can pick up on if a child is potentially being abused. Children also need to be educated on child abuse so they know that if they are being abused, they can turn to someone for help. Children need to be told that they do not deserve the abuse and that their parents should not be hurting them.

In addition to the child being harm, the surrounding environment, including the people and institution, are harmed as well. As a responsible government and society, the society has to take charge of these child abuse. The child welfare system has to be maintained and funded as needed to meet the child abuse problem. These system, include the medical, judicial, and law enforcement systems of society. According to 2001 report by Prevent Child Abuse America, the combat of child abuse costs around $24 billion a year. [5]

However, child abuse may have long term consequences as well. The children who have been abused may find it hard to fit into society. Without conforming to social norms, the people who have been abused may not find jobs, commit criminal activity, have mental illnesses, and more. These are damaging to society because society has to care for these unproductive members of society. [5]

Possible Solutions for Child Abuse

Finding a solution for child abuse is very difficult. To have child abuse be completely ended, the trust of parents will be questioned. Since that is not possible, we must look for other solutions. One way to help alleviate child abuse is to have better education for adults, primarily in schools. If teachers are educated by professionals about the warning signs for child abuse, they will know what to look for. Instead of questioning whether they should be concerned or not, teachers will have a stronger understanding on the subject, making it easier for them to notice clear signs.

Another way for child abuse to be prevented is for parents to be educated early on. If communities had programs to help parents, and support groups, there would likely be a decrease in child abuse.In these programs, alternative methods of discipline could be taught to parents. [10]

Another possible solution for child abuse is to have stronger government intervention. If strict laws are passed surrounding child abuse, people will see that there are consequences for their actions. For example, in 2006, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act was passed to help regulate sex offenders. More laws like this by the government can help solve our child abuse problems. But the government is just a foundation for the solution to be build upon. It is up to the individual to reckon and solve this problem.

Additionally, more possible exposure of the issue through media will bring people's attention to the matter and both government intervention and educational information will help to bring an end to child abuse.



3. U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect. "A nation's Shame: Fatal Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States". 1995.

4. Reinhart, Duane F and Edwards, Carla E. 2009. "Childhood Physical and Verbal Mistreatment, Psychological Symptoms, and Substance Use: Sex Differences and the Moderating Role of Attachment." Journal of Family Violence 24: November 2009.

5. Goddard, Chris. Saunders, Bernadette J. "Child Abuse and the Media". Child Abuse Prevention Issues Number 14 Winter 2001. National Child Protection Clearinghouse.

6. Child Information Gateway, 2008. "Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect,"


8. Child Welfare Information Gateway. History of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. April 3, 2009.

9. Prevent Child Abuse America. "Fact Sheet: An Approach to Preventing Child Abuse".

10. Marion, Marian. "Primary Prevention of Child Abuse: The Role of the Family Life Educator". Family Relations. Vol. 31, No 4. (Oct. 1982).

11. Fact Sheet of PROTECT act. Department of Justice. April 30, 2003.

12. Tennyson Center for Children.


Breakdown of Work

Historical Emergence: Faith
Institutions Roles: Marissa
Consequences: Ben
Possible Solutions: All