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#411 Child abuse

mp3 #411 What is Child Abuse? (mp3 file)


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Every year, hundreds of thousands of children are victims of child abuse and neglect in California. Fortunately, our awareness of this problem and changes in the law have made it easier for us to help children and families in trouble. Many communities have established programs to provide assistance to both victims and abusers.

How do you tell if a child is being abused?

California's laws define child abuse as non-accidental physical injury, willful cruelty, unjustifiable corporal punishment, physical neglect or inadequate supervision, and sexual abuse or exploitation, of a child by another person. In addition, emotional abuse and emotional deprivation are considered by some to be forms of abuse. "Child abuse" does not mean a mutual affray between minors.

Although physical abuse and neglect are easier to detect, all kinds of abuse create serious problems and demand attention. Early detection can save a child from permanent injury or even death.

Physical abuse usually refers to the non-accidental injury of a child under age 18. The signs of a child who has been physically abused may include bruises and welts on the face, lips, or mouth, bruises on large areas of the torso, back, buttocks or thighs, or bruises in clusters or in specific patterns, such as a mark left by a belt buckle or strap.

Burns are more difficult to evaluate, but include cigar or cigarette burns, especially on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, patterned or dry burns indicating forced contact or branding, and wet burns from immersion into a hot liquid. Rope burns may also be evident around the ankles and wrists from children who have been tied up.

Other indications of physical abuse include human bite marks, patches of hair missing or bald spots, or unexplained cuts and abrasions. Often times, child abuse is identified by a child's behavior rather than by a physical sign. You should be suspicious, for example, if a child cannot explain an injury, or is afraid of physical contact with adults. Most importantly, if a child tells you that he has been abused, do not ignore the child or try to minimize the importance of the situation.

Emotional abuse and deprivation can scar a child as severely as physical abuse. Emotional and behavioral problems are very common in children whose parents abuse them emotionally.

The most common kinds of emotional abuse are belittling a child, screaming, threats, blaming or sarcasm. Children who have been emotionally abused may be withdrawn, depressed and apathetic, have severe behavior problems, or act out their problems and frustrations.

The behavior may have a cause other than emotional abuse, but it may be suspected, as a cause.

"Neglect" occurs when a parent or guardian intentionally or negligently fails to provide a child with adequate food, shelter, clothing, protection, supervision, and medical or dental care, under circumstances indicating harm or threatened harm to the child's health or welfare.

"Neglect" includes both acts and omissions by the responsible person. It may include unsanitary conditions in the home, fire hazards or other unsafe conditions, poor nutritional quality of food, a child who is always hungry or dirty, or children under age 14 who are left alone or unsupervised.

Neglect may be suspected in those cases where the conditions are extreme or persist over an extended period of time.

Inflicted physical injury most often represents unreasonably severe corporal punishment. This often happens when a parent gets angry or frustrated and strikes or shakes a child. Discipline that is out of proportion to the child's age or offense may be considered abusive if it results in traumatic physical injury to the child.

"Sexual abuse" involves sexual assault, or sexual exploitation. Sexual assault refers to children under age 18 who are victims of rape, incest, sodomy, oral copulation, penetration of a genital or anal opening by a foreign object, child molestation, or lewd and lascivious acts on a child under age 14. Sexual assault does include the intentional touching of a child's genital area, groin, inner thighs, buttocks, or breasts, or the clothing covering them, or a perpetrator having a child touch these parts of the perpetrator's body, for purposes of sexual arousal or gratification. Sexual assault also includes the intentional masturbation of the perpetrator's genitals in the presence of the child. Physical force may or may not be used. Child molesters usually have a specific age preference and may entice or entrap children with gifts, and may or may not be a relative. The sexual molester may be an adult or another child. Sexual assault does not include acts done for a valid medical purpose, and sexual assault does not include touchings connected with normal caretaking or normal demonstrations of affection.

Sexual exploitation or child pornography often goes unknown by parents, and is also related to the growing number of juvenile runaways who have made their way to California. In many cases, the runaway makes an attractive target for adults who prey on troubled kids. Sexual exploitation includes not only prostitution but also use of children to pose or model for films, photos, drawings, paintings and other pictorial depictions which involve obscene sexual conduct.

Unfortunately, the statistics on the extent of child abuse are inconsistent. Some experts believe that only one out of every five cases of child abuse ever gets reported. For information on how to report child abuse, please view SmartLaw Message #412.

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