SVU - What is Child Abuse?

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What is child abuse?
Child abuse is harm to, or neglect of, a child by another person, whether adult or child. Child abuse happens in all cultural, ethnic, and income groups. Child abuse can be physical, emotional - verbal, sexual or through neglect. Abuse may cause serious injury to the child and may even result in death.

What causes child abuse?
Not all abuse is deliberate or intended. Several factors in a person's life may combine to move them toward abusing a child. Some of the factors include:

  • General stress.
  • The stress of having children in the family, when one didn't have children before.
  • Dealing with a child who has a disability or difficult behaviors.
  • The stress of caring for someone besides oneself.
  • A personal history of being abused (childhood trauma).
  • Alcohol or drug use.
  • Marital conflict.
  • Unemployment.

Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) Facts All 50 states have passed some form of a mandatory child abuse and neglect reporting law in order to qualify for funding under the Child Abuse Prevention and Teatment Act (CAPTA)(Jan. 1996 version), 42 U.S.C. 5101, et seq.

CAPTA mandates "minimum definitions" for child abuse and sexual abuse. Child abuse or neglect is any recent act or failure to act:

  • Resulting in imminent risk of serious harm, death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation.
  • Of a child (usually a person under the age of 18, but a younger age may be specificed in cases not involving sexual abuse).
  • By a parent or caretaker who is responsible for the child's welfare.

Consequences of Child Abuse
Children who have been abused may display:

  • a poor self image
  • sexual acting out
  • inability to trust or love others
  • aggressive, disruptive, and sometimes illegal behavior
  • anger and rage
  • self destructive or self abusive behavior, suicidal thoughts
  • passive, withdrawn or clingy behavior
  • fear of entering into new relationships or activities
  • anxiety and fears
  • school problems or failure
  • feelings of sadness or other symptoms of depressionr
  • flashbacks, nightmares
  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • sleep problems


Often the severe emotional damage to abused children does not surface until adolescence or later, when many abused children become abusing parents. An adult who was abused as a child often has trouble establishing intimate personal relationships. These men and women may have trouble with physical closeness, touching, intimacy, and trust as adults. They are also at higher risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, medical illness, and problems at school or work. Without proper treatment, physically abused children can be damaged for life.

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