Most are aware of the words: “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:2, NRSV). Various interpretations can be given of this statement, which appears, in slightly different form, in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). But its sense obviously includes the notion that crimes and/or offenses against innocent children are especially heinous. That idea has persisted through much of history.
Child abuse can be concisely defined as physical, emotional, or sexual mistreatment or neglect of a child. We (CYS) have a topic on sexual abuse; it is obviously one way in which children may be abused.
According to the Joyful Heart Foundation, “Each state provides its own definition of child abuse within civil and criminal statutes, but they are informed by the following definitions of various forms of child abuse:
Physical. A non-accidental physical injury as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting, burning or otherwise harming a child, that is inflicted by a parent, caregiver or other person who has responsibility for the child. Such injury is considered abuse regardless of whether the caregiver intended to hurt the child.
Sexual. A form of child abuse that includes any sexual act performed with a child by an adult or older child, with our without force or threat of force. It may start as seemingly innocent touching and progress to more serious acts, including verbal seduction or abuse, anal or vaginal intercourse, oral sex, sodomy, manual stimulation, direct threats, implied threats or other forms of abuse.
Emotional. A pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth. This form of abuse is almost always present when other forms of abuse are identified. It may include constant criticism, threat or rejection, as well as withholding love, support or guidance. Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove and, therefore, Child Protection services may not be able to intervene without clear evidence of harm to the child.
Psychological. [This might be considered as part of, or an extension of, emotional abuse.] This is a pattern of behavior that affects a child’s sense of worth by communicating to the child that he or she is not worthy, loved or important. Psychological abuse may include harsh demands, constant criticism, threat or yelling. Witnessing other violent incidents such as domestic violence or school violence is also a form of psychological abuse due to the intense fear it produces and the indirect threat to a child’s safety.”
This Joyful Heart website further informs us that child abuse can affect any child younger than 18, across socioeconomic, religious, ethnic and educational backgrounds.
Safe Horizon provides “10 Signs of Child Abuse,” by which we may become aware of abuse.
Unexplained injuries (bruises, burns, etc., often which the child cannot explain)
Changes in behavior (becoming anxious, scared, depressed, etc.)
Returning to earlier behaviors (regressing to thumb sucking, bed wetting, fear of the dark or of strangers, etc.)
Fear of going home (apprehension of leaving school or going to a person who has been abusing them)
Changes in eating (resulting in weight gain or loss)
Changes in sleeping (nightmares or difficulty falling asleep, fatigued)
Changes in school performance and/or attendance (difficulty also in concentrating in school, excessive absences, etc.)
Lack of personal care or hygiene (may appear uncared for, body odor)
Risk-taking behaviors (using drugs or alcohol, carrying a weapon, etc.)
Inappropriate sexual behavior (may exhibit overly sexualized behavior or use explicit sexual language)
The many organizations fighting child abuse, and departments responsible for child protection, emphasize collaboration and partnership. A society is expected to work on the changes in attitudes and behaviors of all those responsible for the healthy growth of children. Our young dependent citizens need to feel that they are safe, can trust their caregivers and the rest of us, and that they are generally supported in the difficult task of growing up. Our emphasis in attending to and protecting children should not be primarily individualistic but holistic.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What brings you to this issue? Have you ever been abused? Do you know someone who has been abused?
How close have you ever come to abusing a—perhaps difficult—child?
What percentage of parents do you think are aware of the contents of this article? How many caregivers of different kinds, and adults generally, understand all this?
What three or four reasons might bring a boyfriend, stepmother, addicted parent, or even a teacher to commit one of the above types of child abuse?
What actions does this article and topic suggest in response to this issue?
From what “bottom line” of your moral base or faith commitment, do the above principles follow?
A society, as well as a family, may be judged by how it treats its children.
If we are brutally honest, we might confess that a colicky baby, a persistent infant, or a screaming toddler have, at one time or another, given us an urge to use physicality. Fortunately most of us have learned to control our frustration and sudden, negative urges.
It does take a village to raise a child, and villages and societies ought to educate, train and support parents and caregivers of vulnerable children.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of advice and support from online and local services.
Churches and religious communities should screen for potential abusers among all who care for children and youth in any way, and further, provide safe child training at appropriate time intervals. Safe child-care should be part of both belief and practice.