The World Health Organization ([WHO], 2006, p. 9) defines child abuse and neglect as:
‘All forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.’
The effects of abuse and neglect on children, teens and young people can be far-reaching and wide-ranging. Abusive behaviour can be intentional but sometimes unintentional. There is a distinction between acts of commission (abuse) and omission (neglect). When we talk of child abuse and neglect, we are referring to behaviour that presents a risk of causing physical and/or emotional harm to a child or teen. It can be engaged by parents, caregivers or any other adult or older adolescent and is outside what we consider to be normal conduct.
Different types of abuse include:
Physical Abuse – as its name suggests, this can include any form of violence, be it beating, hitting, slapping, pulling, etc. Apart from the obvious physical effects, it can also do untold psychological harm.
Verbal Abuse – this can include constant belittling, humiliation, name-calling, shaming, just to name some.
Emotional Abuse – this can occur in any type of relationship, be it romantic, familial, professional, or a friendship. Examples of the abuse can include constant belittling of you, shaming, blaming and manipulating.
Sexual Abuse – this can include inappropriate and non-consensual touching, groping, rape, molestation. In the case of minors, it can include pressuring the victim to witness sexual acts without their consent. It can be one-off or over a prolonged or sustained period of time; it can be perpetrated by a stranger, family member or even partner.
Effects of Abuse
- Trust issues
- Difficulty in forming relationships
Factors influencing the effects of child abuse
The effects of abuse and neglect on children (and people in general) can be widely varying from person to person; different people can have different responses to the same type of abuse. For some, the effects may not be that adverse, however, for some, they can be debilitating and chronic.
A child’s vulnerability or resilience in response to abuse can be influenced by a variety of external factors, experiences and circumstances. When we talk about resilience, we are referring to a child’s ability to cope and thrive in the face of abuse or other harsh experiences. Individual child attributes can affect their resilience. Factors can include the support structure (or lack thereof) around them, such as their family, school environment and friendships. If these support structures aren’t strong or aren’t there at all, this increases the susceptibility of the child to more severe manifestations of abuse effects. Some of the more common factors include:
- The age and/or developmental stage of the child when the abuse occurred; studies suggest the younger they are, the more severe the effects can be.
However the abuse was/is; naturally the more severe it is, the more negative the effects are likely to be.
- The type(s) of abuse, maltreatment or neglect involved. Different types can lead to different effects.
- How the victim perceives the abuse. Some children may blame themselves or feel shame or stigma around the abuse. This will have ramifications on the outcome of the abuse.