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Abuse is cyclical in nature. That means it often runs in cycles: the great-grandparents abused the grandparents, and grandparents abused the parents, and parents abuse their children, and the children will eventually turn out to be abusers also. Abuse is a “learned” behavior. The potential “abuser” needs to learn an alternative method to abusive behaviors. This happens with education OR therapy interventions, not just desire not to abuse.



Bruises, lacerations and abrasions, skeletal injuries, head injuries, and internal injuries from hitting, shaking, twisting, pulling, punching, beating with the hand or an object, biting, force feeding, and kicking. Burns from cigarettes, hot liquids, confinement ropes or irons.



Because emotional abuse attacks the child's psyche and self-concept, the victim comes to see him or herself as unworthy of love and affection. Children who are constantly shamed, humiliated, terrorized or rejected suffer at least as much, if not more, than if they had been physically assaulted.

An infant who is being severely deprived of basic emotional nurturing, even though physically well cared for, can fail to thrive and can eventually die. Less severe forms of early emotional deprivation may produce babies who grow into anxious and insecure children who are slow to develop or who might have low self-esteem.

Abusing a victim emotionally is considered a pattern of behavior that can seriously interfere with a child's positive development. Emotional abuse is probably the least understood of all child abuse, and can be the cruelest and most destructive of all types of abuse. It includes rejecting, ignoring, isolating, terrorizing, and corrupting.



Child sexual abuse is any sexual act with a child performed by an adult or an older child. This might be fondling the child's genitals; getting the child to fondle an adult's genitals; mouth to genital contact; rubbing an adult's genitals on the child; or actually penetrating the child's vagina or anus with a body part or object.

Other forms of abuse can also occur that are not as easy to detect. These include showing an adult's genitals to a child, showing the child pornographic or "dirty" pictures or videotapes, or using the

child as a model to make pornographic materials.

Child molesters often “groom” their victims by giving them attention, affection, or gifts. The trauma can be so great, the victim may even “repress” the memory. Child molesters are most often someone the child knows…and NOT a stranger.


This little girl longs to go to school, but is forced to stay home and care for an alcohol dependent mother.


The difference between abuse and neglect is that abuse represents an action against a child while neglect represents a lack of action for the child.

Not meeting a child's essential needs for food, clothing, and shelter is the most basic form of neglect. But there are many other forms. Parents may not obtain preventive dental or medical care for the child, such as vaccinations and routine physical examinations. Parents may delay obtaining medical care when the child is ill, putting the child at risk of more severe illness and even death. Parents may not make sure the child attends school or is privately schooled. Parents may leave a child in the care of a person who is known to be abusive, or may leave a young child unattended.

A hungry child with a diaper heavy with urine and feces, long past changing time.



From nearly 1,800,000 referrals of suspected child abuse, approximately 896,000 cases were verified as abuse, which constituted an annual incidence of 5.7 per 1000 children. The victims often hide the abuse to protect the offender, either because they have been threatened or because they are fearful.


60% were victims of neglect

20% were victims of physical abuse

10% were victims of sexual abuse

7% were victims of emotional abuse

Children ages birth to 3 years had the highest rates of victimization. Girls were slightly more likely to be victims than boys, but boys suffered more serious injuries.

While the rate of White victims of child abuse or neglect was 10.7 per 1,000 children of the same race, the rate for American Indian or Alaska Natives was 21.7 per 1,000 children and for African-Americans 20.2 per 1,000 children.



Being a single parent, being poor, having problems with drug or alcohol abuse, or having a mental health problem such as a personality disorder, depression, trouble coping with stress, a hot temper, immaturity, little knowledge of parenting skills, having feelings of isolation, or low self-esteem can make a parent more likely to neglect or abuse a child…but it comes in all looks, and crosses over all social, educational, age, and economic levels.

Perpetrator has history of being abused themselves. May have difficulty with emotions and interpersonal skills. They seek power and control.

If abuser is not a family member or friend, it is often a caregiver or someone in a service-oriented profession or position. May be over-protective or possessive. May be dominating or have unrealistic expectations of a child.



Unusual sexual behavior or knowledge

Eating and/or sleeping pattern changes

Change in school performance and relationships with peers

Inappropriate touching of others

Compulsive behaviors or extreme tantrums

Promiscuity, prostitution or substance abuse

Suicidal thoughts and/or depression

Chronic somatic problems such as stomach aches, vomiting, or headaches.

Affectionless or overly affectionate

Aggressive behaviors at school or toward siblings, possessions, or pets

Destruction of property, arson, vandalism, truancy Tries to make people angry at them

Withdrawn or social isolated

Clinging – a need for reassurance

Verbally abusive

Angry, hateful, negative attitude

May hurt themselves; self destructive activities

Age regression or infantile behavior


One or more of these characteristics present at any given time does not necessarily indicate child sexual abuse. In cases of abuse, these behaviors overlap and are frequently excessive, for a substantial period of time.



Factors research has shown to influence the effects of abuse:

Age of the child when the abuse happened; younger is usually more harmful. Who committed the abuse; effects are generally worse when it was a parent, step-parent or trusted adult than a stranger. Whether the child told anyone, and if so, the person's response.  Doubting, ignoring, blaming and shaming responses can be extremely harmful - in some cases even more than the abuse itself. Whether or not violence was involved, and if so, how severe. How long the abuse went on. Whether the abuse involved deliberately humiliating the child. How "normal" such abuse was in the extended family and local culture. Whether the child had loving family members, and/or knew that someone loved her or him. Whether the child had some good relationships - with siblings, friends, teachers, coaches, etc.

Whether the child had any relationships in which "negative" feelings were acceptable, and could be expressed and managed safely and constructively.

Victims may have experienced dissociation (feeling separate from their body) and may even have delayed recall of the abuse. They often have behavioral difficulties, increased incidence of juvenile delinquency and adult criminality, alcohol and drug abuse problems, physical health problems, poor mental and emotional health, social difficulties with peers and adults, and display abusive behavior toward others (especially their own children).



Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy was named after an 18th century dignitary named Baron von Munchausen who was known for telling exaggerated stories. Individuals who exhibit the characteristics of this syndrome fabricate, exaggerate, or cause illness or sickness, usually of their own child. MSBP is a form of child abuse and can prove fatal. The abuser is most often the mother. Children subjected to this form of abuse may be hospitalized repeatedly and undergo numerous surgeries.

Researchers first began to recognize this pattern of abuse in the 1970s. The exact psychological basis for MSBP is not known. Some people believe it is a complex way of seeking attention. The mother plays the role of a dedicated and attentive caregiver, a constant bedside martyr who sacrifices her own time and happiness to sit, worry, and care about her child. She receives praise for her dedication and stamina in putting her child’s needs above her own day after day.



Some people are afraid to make this phone call, for fear that police rush in and tear apart families. Wrong! Your call will prompt an investigation, and may save a child. This phone call can be made anonymously.

Help StopChild Abuse

Call the Abuse/Neglect Hotline at1-800-652-1999

Calling from Outside of Nebraska402-595-1324

State law requires any person who suspects that a child has been physically or sexually abused or neglected to report it promptly to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Do not use e-mail to report cases of abuse. Do not investigate yourself.If there is an emergency, call local law enforcement immediately.

Individuals working with children can forfeit their license or certification for

failure to report suspected abuse.




Child abuse statistics are reported by the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect or NCCAN. Information is collected on studies conducted by the federally funded Third National Incidence Study (NIS-3) OF 2002, and updated in 2005.

Preparing individuals for life and work
  • Strengthening families
  • Empowering communities

Created by Barbara L. Swarthout, Family & Consumer Sciences teacher at Elkhorn High School