What is child abuse?
A good starting point for the analysis of the topic that we propose to share today on the blog of Nuestro Psicólogo en Madrid, could be the concept of child abuse published by the WHO on its website. There, child abuse is defined verbatim, as:
“ The abuses and neglect to which minors under 18 years of age are subjected, including all types of physical or psychological abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, neglect and commercial or other exploitation that cause or may cause damage to health, development or dignity of the child, or endangering their survival, in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power . “
The feeling that remains when reading a definition like this, as broad as it is forceful, is overwhelming. This definition encompasses too many strong things, heartbreaking testimonies and brutal stories, very difficult to assimilate, but that we have all heard more than once.
The importance of early detection.
The purpose of this article is to take an approach that allows us to learn more about this problem. We can start from some basic questions. From these answers, each of us will be able to build not only a more realistic and complete concept, but also ways of detecting and why not? deal with any close case that may come our way.
As a first step, it is important to face it: none of us are strangers to a problem like this. It could touch us closely in many ways, to begin with, because it is a much more frequent issue than you think.
Childhood abuse is very common in the home. The child knows the abuser as someone from his family environment and this forces him to remain silent for fear of not being believed.
The abuser can be anyone close to the child, his parents, his school teachers , relatives or friends of the family. Anyone close to the child and who can come into frequent contact with him can be an abuser. Fortunately, these are a minority, but even if this is the case, we must be vigilant for possible signs that suggest child abuse.
Detecting abuse, making it visible, addressing it with appropriate tools and methodologies is much more important than looking the other way and ignoring it. The phenomenon of child abuse is transversal: it is present in all countries, at all socioeconomic and cultural levels.
What are the types of child abuse?
All abuse implies an abusive situation and abuse is, therefore, everything that prevents the harmonious growth of a child or adolescent, not respecting their needs and leaving them unprotected in every sense both physically and emotionally.
In a first classification of the types of child abuse we find these attitudes:
- Behaviors or situations of an omisive nature (to be clear, it is what is omitted, that is to say ” not done “), among which is the inability or unwillingness of the responsible adults to provide care, containment and care for physical needs , psychic and emotional of the child
- Behaviors or situations of a commissive nature (it is the opposite of omission. That is, when the abuser performs an action or ” does something “) within which physical, sexual or psychological abuse stands out.
How to detect if a child is abused?
In most cases where some type of child abuse or mistreatment is detected, the certainty of the same is not reached through the child’s confidences with an adult of their trust. The most common is to find signs or clues that show us that something is upsetting the child . This stress manifests itself through behaviors or behaviors that they themselves are not aware of on many occasions.
An isolated change in your behavior may be a nonspecific sign, but the key point is the coincidence of more than one of these worrisome signs. If the coexistence of several red flags is verified, it may be time to seek professional help or advice. Thus, we can seek an enlightening dialogue with the child, which fosters an environment of trust where he can talk about what is happening to him.
What to observe in children? What or what could these red flags be?
- Nightmares, trouble sleeping.
- Acting in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects.
- Sudden and inexplicable changes in mood, personality especially with signs of insecurity.
- Regressions to clearly infantile behaviors, for example, urinary incontinence, or sucking fingers.
- Inexplicable fear of particular places or people.
- Outbursts of anger.
- Difficulty or inability to concentrate on the study.
- Decrease in school grades (in the case of adolescents it is very noticeable).
- Changes in eating habits.
- New words for parts of the body that reveal adult vocabulary without detecting any obvious source.
- Appearance of inexplicable money or gifts.
- Self-harm (cuts, burns, or other harmful activities).
- Physical signs, such as unexplained pain or bruising around the genitals or mouth.
- Not wanting to be alone with a particular child or person.
Psychological child abuse, is it abuse itself?
It certainly is, and its consequences can be impressive. Why? To begin with, because the abused child, who is not helped or treated in time, in his adolescence or adulthood could manifest a tendency to replicate what he has suffered and even to commit actions with revenge biases. This translates into adopting behaviors that cause even more suffering than he or she had suffered in childhood.
In daily life, psychological abuse of a child is a pattern of verbal or behavioral actions that reveal contempt, absolute indifference, deep devaluation or permanent disapproval.
Also, in the same vein, psychological abuse is configured by the absence of actions that transmit positive messages of security or emotional reinforcement to the child. The classics? The continual and repeated message that he or she is worthless, flawed, unloved, “useless . “
In other words: the absence of emotional support, isolation or terrorizing a child are forms of psychological abuse . Finally and unfortunately very common: domestic violence that is witnessed by a child is also considered a form of psychological abuse .
Situations of child psychological abuse.
- Rejection: rejecting a child, pushing him away, making him feel worthless or worthless, undermining the value of his ideas or feelings, refusing to help him.
- Contempt: demean the child, ridicule him, humiliate him, embarrass him, criticize him, insult him.
- Isolation: physically or socially isolating a child, to limit their opportunities to interact with others.
- Corruption or exploitation: tolerating or encouraging inappropriate or deviant behavior, exposing the child to antisocial role models, viewing the child as a servant, encouraging or forcing him to participate in sexual activities.
- Absence of emotional response: being inattentive or indifferent towards the child, ignoring his emotional needs, avoiding eye contact, kisses or verbal communication with him, never congratulating him.
- Exposure to domestic violence: exposing a child to violent words and acts between their parents.
We have come closer to understanding child abuse a little more deeply. Despite this, we surely have many questions left, such as: is it possible to know what are the causes of child abuse? What are the consequences of child abuse? Are there statistics on child abuse in the world? What impact does this problem have at the level of our country?
To have a deeper understanding of the problem, we can analyze how often these cases appear, get closer to the statistics and other interesting data related to the issue of abuse in childhood.
Causes, consequences, detection, statistics that are worth knowing.
Like everything that has to do with human behavior, it is neither possible nor reasonable to attempt to quantify or classify neither the causes nor the consequences of child abuse. It is not possible to make a detailed list, as we did before with the items that we saw when detecting abuse.
The truth is that child abuse has many causes and produces many consequences . As if this were not enough, sometimes they form a network with each other, a vicious circle. We see, many times that the cause of someone abusing a child is that he has previously been a victim of child abuse . That is, the cause is the consequence of having been mistreated in childhood.
Thus, what can be done is an analysis to find and define the causes in each case. Experts on this topic consider five different approaches to understanding the etiology of the problem.
Approaches to the causes of child abuse.
- Sociological approach, which considers that most situations of mistreatment, abuse or physical and emotional violence, occur as a consequence of situations of economic deprivation or situations of social isolation.
- The cognitive approach maintains that cognitive distortions, expectations and inadequate perceptions of adults, parents or caregivers are the main cause of abusive manifestations towards minors in their care.
- Psychiatric approach, which postulates that child abuse is a consequence of the existence of psychiatric pathologies in the parents or adults in charge.
- Another approach values inappropriate information processing. He considers this as one of the main causes for peculiar styles of physical neglect or severe negligence in the basic care of children: hygiene, food and shelter among many others.
- Finally, there is an approach linked to poor stress management. They believe that it distorts every way of perceiving, evaluating and processing everyday situations and / or events by adults or families in charge of minors. This, without a doubt, is a starting point that fosters situations of abuse and violence in the family environment and children are often the most vulnerable victims.
Consequences of child abuse.
As for the consequences of abuse, it is equally complex (if not impossible) to review them one by one. Due to the fact that it is a multifactorial problem that, in turn, is aggravated or modulated in relation to the environment of the child who suffers from it, it translates into diverse and sometimes unpredictable consequences. What we can do, as we plan with the causes, is to group them into nuances or aspects, which in this case are: physical, behavioral, emotional, medical, psychological, psychiatric and intellectual performance consequences.
Children who have been abused as adults are more likely to develop serious conduct disorders. Among them we can reviews for their frequency and importance:
- Violent assaults. They can become abusers.
- Depressive disorders and suicidal tendencies.
- Addiction to alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
- High-risk behaviors, including dangerous sexual behaviors.
- Overweight and obesity.
Child abuse in the world
If we talk about revealing statistics, we can cite nothing less than one of the latest UNESCO reports based on data from 190 countries, the report is entitled: “ Hidden in plain light ”. It is recommended to read it carefully if you are deeply interested in the subject, but we can anticipate some shocking data, for example:
- The violence occurs mainly in places where children should be safe: their homes, their schools and their neighborhoods.
- Approximately 120 million girls under the age of 20 worldwide ( 1 in 10 ) have experienced forced sex or other forced sexual acts.
- At least 20% of homicide victims worldwide are children and adolescents under the age of 20. This represented approximately 95,000 deaths in 2012.
Child abuse in Spain
Spain is not alien to this problem and despite the fact that it has been working on it for many years, the statistical figures are not encouraging at all.
It is worth mentioning the existence as of 2012 of the RUMI , acronym for the Unified Registry of cases of suspected Child Abuse , which has become the main tool to measure these cases, by the Ministry of Health and Social Services.
Despite not covering the entire Spanish territory as would be desirable, the latest RUMI report tells us of 13,818 minors who are victims of some type of abuse, which translates as follows: in Spain at least 37 are detected per day possible victims of child abuse in the family environment.
That same record recognizes that most of the ill-treatment detected (8,088) are classified as “mild or moderate”, but another 5,730 are classified as serious. 55% of the victims were boys, with the exception of the crime of sexual assault, in which case girls are twice as victims as they are.
It is worth noting that the RUMI also collects data from the educational field beyond the family , so these figures also include the last point that we will address.
Bullying and child abuse.
This is a large and complex chapter, which goes far beyond the dimension that all of us often give when we hear the term bullying , reducing it only to harassment between students in an educational center.
To do this, we can return to the UNESCO report that, in addition to providing global data, also manages to broaden our vision of this terrible problem.
Some of these shocking data are:
- Slightly more than 1 in 3 students between the ages of 13 and 15 worldwide experience bullying.
- Almost 33% of 11-15 year olds from Europe and North America said they had bullied others.
- Not everything happens between students: around 17% of children in 58 countries are subjected to serious forms of physical punishment (repeated violent blows to the head, face or body), as part of the “discipline” in their educational center .
The issue of bullying , due to its increasing statistics and its importance, deserves to be studied in a separate chapter.
Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.