April 17, 2014
Child abuse is an act by parents or caregivers which endangers a child or young person’s physical or emotional health or development. Child abuse can be a single incident, but usually takes place over time. In Victoria, a child or young person is defined as a person under 18 years of age (Children Youth and Families Act 2005).
Injuries may be inflicted intentionally or may be the inadvertent consequence of physical punishment or physically aggressive treatment of a child. The injury may take the form of bruises, cuts, burns or fractures. Generally abusers are 50/50 male and female.
Child sexual abuse involves a wide range of sexual activity. It includes fondling of the child’s genitals, masturbation, oral sex, vaginal or anal penetration by a penis, finger or other object or exposure of the child to pornography. Sexual abuse rarely occurs as a single event and often starts with a caring relationship. 90% of sexual abusers are male.
Emotional abuse occurs when a child’s parent or caregiver repeatedly rejects the child or uses threats to frighten the child. This may involve name calling, put downs or continual coldness from the parent or caregiver, to the extent that it significantly damages the child’s physical, social, intellectual or emotional development.
Neglect is the failure to provide the child with the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter, medical attention or supervision, to the extent that the child’s health and development is, or is likely to be, significantly harmed.
Effects of child abuse
Children may experience a range of emotional, psychological and physical problems and trauma as a result of being abused or neglected.
Emotional and Psychological symptoms of trauma:
- Shock denial or disbelief
- Anger, irritability, mood swings
- Guilt, shame, self-blame
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety and fear
- Withdrawing from others
- Feeling disconnected or numb
- Physical symptoms of trauma:
- Insomnia or nightmares
- Being easily startled
- Racing heartbeat
- Aches and pains
- Difficulty concentrating
- Edginess and agitation
- Muscle tension
Experiencing trauma in childhood can have a severe and long-lasting effect. Children who have been traumatised see the world as a frightening and dangerous place. When childhood trauma is not resolved, this fundamental sense of fear and helplessness carries over into adulthood, setting the stage for further trauma. The biggest effect of child sexual abuse is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).