Child abuse includes assaults in any of many areas-- physical, sexual, or emotional-- and may be acts of commission (abuse) or omission (neglect) (Zigler, 1989). Child maltreatment and neglect includes a variety of intentional actions or lack of actions by a parent or caregiver that causes harm to a child. Child maltreatment is also known as child abuse.
How is the problem defined? Physical abuse is any intentional act that causes a physical injury to a child. Injuries, such as bruises, burns, fractures, cuts, punctures, or organ damage, can occur when a child is physically abused. Physical abuse may cause serious emotional problems that last long after the physical injury has healed (Kent & Waller, 1998). The abuse can start before a child is born if a mother uses illegal drugs, misuses prescription or nonprescription medications, or fails to seek health care during her pregnancy (Shelov, 1998).
Sexual abuse is any act with a child that is intended to sexually gratify an adult. Sexual abusers can be young or old, male or female, and usually are family members (incest) or acquaintances that the child knows. They convince the child not to tell and that the act is okay. Sexual abuse by a stranger is rare.
Child neglect is failure to take action when action is needed to ensure a child's health and well-being. Neglect can cause failure to succeed or learning problems (Garbarino & Garbarino, 1994). Neglect happens when parents of caregivers fail to provide appropriate shelter, schooling, clothing, protection from hazards, or medical care (Korfmacher, 1998). Neglect causes potential or actual harm or both.
Emotional abuse is maltreatment that causes damage to psychological growth and development (Sanders & Becker, 1995). It is also a pattern of behavior that attacks a child's emotional development and sense of self-worth. It includes words, actions, and indifference. Abusers constantly reject, ignore, belittle, dominate, and criticize the victims.