Child Abuse Essay, Research Paper
INTRODUCTION Imagine for a moment that you are not yourself any longer. Visualize instead, that you are a young girl, old enough to know wrong from right, yet still young enough to be terrified of the dark shadows in your room. It is a cool spring night, and your parents opt to attend a party, which you are not allowed at. It will be fine, you ll hardly even miss us they say to you, unknowing of the terror that is within your heart. Your uncle is coming over to watch you, so be a good girl they continue. Your parents are pleased with the fact that he offered so readily to take care of you, with the premise of saving them from having to pay a baby sitter. When he finally arrives, your mother kisses you on the cheek and scurries out the door to join your father already waiting in the car outside. This is when your nightmare begins. His slimy hands casually slide an ebony cassette into the VCR, and he starts leering at you with his usual horrible fashion. You can feel his gaze worming its way through your clothes every time he looks at you. You feel dirty and violated every time you think of what he does to you when you are alone together. He walks over to the couch you are on, and sits down right beside you. His hand slithers onto your knee, and you cringe in fear and revulsion. Don t be afraid, you know I won t hurt you he chides. Your mind feels panicky as you sense his hands moving into more intimate places, and you scream involuntarily. His grip tightens as he places his hand over your mouth. I think you want to force me to do this the hard way comes his intense whisper. You flail your arms at him in a desperate, yet futile attempt to protect yourself and your body. Your mind realizes there is nothing you can do to stop him from carrying out his brutal plans for you. Your mind detaches from your body as you finally realize his sweaty, massive body is now atop your own, and you feel so powerless. You start sobbing as you wait for this horrible nightmare to eventually stop. When he is done, you limp helplessly to the laundry room and try fruitlessly to get the bloodstains out of your clothing so your mother doesn t notice. This was all your fault . This sad and gruesome scenario you have just experienced is only one type of child abuse that occurs millions of times every year across America. Estimates of abuse can range widely depending on the source of ones information. From one to two million children per year are victims of some form of child abuse (Dolan, pg. 3). All sources however agree on the simple truth, that not nearly all cases of child abuse are reported each year, or even able to be estimated. Many cases go unreported, less than 50% by current estimates (Dolan, pg. 3). The amount of known and reported child abuse is staggering for most people to think about, let alone dealing with the issue of the unreported cases. By the age of eighteen, nearly one in three girls will have been sexually molested, and one in six boys will have been molested in the same time frame (WWW. site). In this paper I will discuss not only the effects of sexual abuse, but abuse in all its forms. These include physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental abuse and neglect. My methods for locating information and formulating this paper have included personal interviews with friends and family members, reading journal articles pertaining to child abuse and also utilizing resources available on the World Wide Web. In conducting the research for this paper, I was looking to answer the question of whether or not child abuse is a growing trend today, or simply that it is brought to the publics attention more now than in the past due to mass media coverage. We can look at several examples recently involving child abuse and conclude that yes, the media is voracious in its pursuit of sensational stories, but this may be an example of a subject that needs to be in public focus.The media has shown us that child abuse is a global problem, and has been valuable in showing that abuse knows no socioeconomic boundaries. Anyone from any walk of life can be an abuser, been abused themselves, or both. This is especially useful when it is brought to the publics attention that not only children who are from lower income and poverty stricken homes can be victims. Even children who come from the so-called good families can be abused and even killed. Any child that is a victim of abuse is mostly helpless, and in need of any kind of advocate possible. Without the media s portrayal of abused children and signs to be suspicious of, the grandmother, aunt, family friend, babysitter, etc. may not be able to recognize an abused child in time. In this sense, one can understand the important role the media can play in possibly saving lives. Even with this coverage today, it is still a sad reality that children die because someone didn t recognize them as being abused in time. There were no clear results as to whether this coverage brings to light more cases of abuse or if abuse is growing, so I decided to address the next question I will cover in this report, and that is How had child abuse changed over the last hundred years, and what has it s effects been on the families involved? This brings me to my first area of research, and that is the changing family of today.It is clear that families are undergoing a number of important structural changes: families are smaller than in the past, with fewer children and in many cases with only one parent present, parents are having children at later ages than before, and many parents are living together with out the bonds of matrimony that were considered so important only a few decades ago. The source of this degradation of the familial unit in society was unknown in the areas I researched for this paper. It is a question only the parents can both answer and solve for themselves. It is certainly not anything a child could understand, or be capable of helping to answer for their parents.Physical abuse is one of the most well known and recognized forms of abuse today (WWW site). This type of abuse can take many forms. Some of these include hitting the child with fists, kicking with the feet, hitting the child with other objects, such as electrical cords, belts, shovels, canes, sticks, broom handles, baseball bats, and assorted other objects. Other forms of physical abuse include pouring coffee or other hot liquids on the child s body, holding the child s head in a toilet bowl, stuffing the child into a running washing machine, holding parts of the child s anatomy on a hot surface such as a stove, throwing the child against a wall, and shaking a child with extreme force against a wall or other object. (Author s note: sometimes in cases where the child has been shaken with extreme force such as a violent aggressor possesses, this can cause severe brain damage when the brain is repeatedly crushed against the skull. This is referred to as shaken baby syndrome . This type of injury is especially damaging to small babies and children.) Some experts say that for every reported case of physical abuse, over 100 go unreported (Dolan, pg. 7). Nobody really knows precisely how many children die each year from physical abuse and the subsequent injuries involved at the hands of abusing adults. The National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse in it s annual survey of all 50 states estimates that 1,125 died from abuse in 1988, a figure that, in it s latest report most likely represents the lowest estimate of the problem. What is known however, is that reports of child fatalities are steadily increasing. Many times when injuries are sustained at the hands of parents or guardians, the child is not taken for medical attention, even when the wounds or injuries are very severe. If and when they are taken to the hospital or clinic, it will usually be a secondary member of the family, one who did not actually cause the injury, but did nothing to prevent it either. This type of person is commonly referred to as a facilitator. In the past, there was more emphasis on discipline, both at home and in the schools than there is today. In one interview I conducted, I asked the following question: What do you consider to be abuse, as opposed to punishment and discipline? The response I received was Beating the child with a stick the size of a telephone pole, or forcing the child to eat liver. It s not what I think is abuse, but what the government perceives as abuse. I personally feel it is abuse if the child doesn t learn from it. Kids way back when were slapped on the wrist with rulers in school and it was common to perform discipline with a belt. They didn t go out and kill one another or join gangs and deal drugs like they do now (Cox, personal interview). Most people I spoke with displayed one of two attitudes: No form of corporal punishment was acceptable to them today, or more discipline was strongly needed in today s society. Many experts feel that the terrible pressures families may feel now are partly to blame for the excess of abuse in today s families.
Physical abuse is termed sexual abuse when it involves the display or touching of genitalia, or anything that is not considered part of normal person-to-person contact. This brings us to the next point of discussion, that of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is described as those activities by an older person for his or her sexual gratification, without concern for the child s psychological sexual development. Also, it includes contact or interaction between a child and an individual of higher powers when the child is used for the sexual stimulation of that adult or another. There are many forms of sexual abuse and these include incest, pedophilia, exhibitionism, molestation, statutory rape, and child pornography. It is estimated that approximately three hundred thousand children are involved in child prostitution and pornography. Many times, the men and women who abuse children were they themselves abused as children. In this sense, abuse is very much a self-fulfilling prophecy or a vicious circle. Historically, sexual abuse was not as much of an issue as it is in modern times. Incidences of sexual abuse are highest in urbanized, technologically advanced societies. We hold this to be self-evident because the basic needs of the sexual drive are denied a constructive (or at least less destructive) outlet in modern society. In other cultures and times, prostitution was a valid form of employment, and this niche provided an integral outlet for connoisseurs of sex (i.e. nymphomaniacs and sadists). Without this vent, men with sexual frustrations may turn to the less reactive child as sexual prey. Due to the black market prostitution of children, a twelve-year-old boy can earn upwards of a thousand dollars per day selling himself on the streets of Los Angeles. Mental abuse suffered by these predators of children often is the cause of their unnatural desires for sex. This brings me to my next point of consideration, that of mental abuse.Mental abuse of a child can involve several different activities. These include the common verbal forms, i.e. yelling, constant insults, etc. They also include certain forms of mental torture and neglect. Mental abuse is one of the most damaging forms of abuse, because unlike rape or other types of sexual and physical abuse, mental abuse lingers for the rest of person s life. I would like to offer this analogy to shed light on what I am trying to communicate. Physical and sexual abuse is like a roadblock on the road of life. They are there for awhile, but it is possible to get over them eventually. Mental abuse, on the other hand, can destroy the way a person perceives his or herself and the world. If someone were to be constantly insulting you, telling you that you are no good, then with time, your mind becomes accustomed to it and begins to accept it as truth. This form of abuse has potentially the worst effect on young children and babies, who are as dependent upon adults for mental support as they are for their physiological needs. Mental abuse is an utter violation of such trust and dependency. This form of abuse affects not only the child, but also society as a whole. In one of my interviews I received the following response to the question what do you feel is the greatest misconception about abuse in today s society? We still don t understand how much real damage it does, not only to the child, but to society as a whole. Most people never fully recover from mental abuse. Our society never will recover from mental abuse (Reed, personal interview). This now brings me to my final point of discussion, that of neglect.The statistics on neglect are staggering. A recent study prepared by the American Humane Association states that, nationwide, neglect consistently has accounted for a very large number of maltreatment cases. In 1996 alone, it represented nearly a third of the two million cases of reported incidents of the three predominant forms of abuse: physical, sexual and neglect. Neglect is the unlawful withholding of a child s basic needs. Food, water, shelter, and clothing are all things a child needs to live an effective life in the world today. To deny a child these things is leave him or her lower on the ladder of needs than he or she would conceivably be otherwise. While neglect statistics show this is a growing problem, it is the least prominent villain in child abuse awareness campaigns. Why are people so unwilling to admit to this problem? Unlike the demons that lurk in the back of a child s closet, this is not a problem that will simply disappear with the flick of a light switch. Many of these children only wish that those imaginary demons were the greatest of their concerns.In conclusion, I have gone over the most important points and facts about the different types of child abuse and what their effects are on children. We have tried to shed some light on this unspoken about and shunned subject. The answer to the question, which was posed at the beginning of this paper, is vague at best and unanswerable at worst. Child abuse has always been around, and it always will be around as long as other people care more about themselves than about others. The golden rule is the ultimate answer, the most dignified quest. The last hundred years have only brought about changes in the discussion, description, and definition of child abuse. These things have helped do away with child abuse significantly, but the eradication of this most cursed of diseases is not in the sight of those who look to the future. I leave you with this final quote, spoken by a one Mr. Andrew Vachss. The effect that child abuse has not just on the victims, but on their subsequent victims and on society as a whole, is, in my judgment, far more devastating than the threat of drugs, of political upheaval, of economic disaster, or of environmental destruction… I really think that child abuse is the most significant threat not just to the quality of life in this country, but to life in this country.