5 Signs of Child Abuse
The first step to make, in order to change the cycle of abuse, is to understand it and not ignore it.
Since entering the field of mental and behavioral health 10 years ago, I have ached for children that have been abused. Above all else, it has been the most emotionally taxing thing I have come to see and had to deal with.
Throughout my career, I have often thought about the classic piece of literature and its musical counterpart “Les Misérables.” One of the story’s main characters includes a little girl, named Cosette, who is placed in the care of a tavern keeper and his wife, after her mother is left destitute. Cosette’s mother leaves her to find work in order to help pay for her care and keeping.
Cosette is dressed in rags and treated as a slave. The way she is treated makes her feel like she is a terrible burden, and that her mother is a whore that never cared for her, even though the tavern keeper receives money from her mother regularly, which they hoard for themselves. Cosette is physically mistreated, and she never receives a kind word from anyone.
When I see children who are abused and mistreated, I often think of Cosette, and wonder how long the cycle has gone on for. Has it been from one generation to the next? I wonder if the abusers even know that what they are doing is abuse. I hope that my small intervention will change the life of a child positively in some way.
Childhelp.org, one organization at the front of the fight against child abuse, identifies five specific types of child abuse. They list and define the different types of abuse, and their signs, as follows:
- Neglect: failure to provide for a child’s physical needs
Signs: poor hygiene, and poor nutrition and health
- Physical abuse: any non-accidental injury to a child, including hitting, kicking, slapping, shaking, burning, pinching, hair-pulling, biting, choking, throwing, shoving, whipping, or paddling
Signs: recurring injuries that are unexplainable or have guarded and inconsistent explanations, injury in uncommon places, severe aggression, or withdrawal
- Sexual abuse: any sexual act between an adult and child, or the forced observation of sexual acts
Signs: excessive or age-inappropriate sexual curiosity, genital sores or pain, excessive withdrawal, or aggression
- Psychological abuse (emotional/mental): any attitude or behavior which interferes with a child’s mental health or social development, including yelling, screaming, name-calling, shaming, negative comparisons to others, and telling the child he is “bad, no good, worthless,” or “a mistake”
Signs: poor confidence and self-esteem, hiding eyes, developmental regression, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts or words, anxiety, or frequent stomachache or headache
- Medical Neglect: failure to provide needed medical care (This area of abuse is generally received as more controversial, considering arguments regarding rights to refuse medical services due to religious beliefs.)
Signs: major medical problems left untreated
The word “abuse” means “improper use.” There are obviously differing degrees of abuse. There are few parents that can honestly say they have never yelled at their children; and yet, it is important to understand that if there are patterns of this kind of behavior, yelling is abusive.
“Les Misérables,” and more specifically, Cosette’s character, tells a beautiful story of redemption, the power of the human heart, and the will to overcome tragedy and mistreatment. It shows that love truly can conquer all things. If there is someone you know that is experiencing abuse, reach out! Get help for the children who are suffering, and let them know that you will bind up their hearts and give them confidence in the world again.