Abuse of a child
What does Abuse of a child mean?
Although each state has laws to define what is considered child abuse within the state, there are federal child abuse laws which outline the minimum acts considered abuse and neglect.
The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), (42 U.S.C.A.5106g), as amended by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, defines child abuse and neglect as, "Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."
State’s definitions of Abuse
Each state also has expanded the definition of child abuse to include three types of abuse: sexual abuse, physical abuse and emotional abuse.
Physical abuse can include any type of intentional actions such as injuries from punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, or hitting.
Sexual abuse can include any inappropriate sexual contact including penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution.
Emotional abuse can include verbal or physical actions of rejection, criticism, or threats. Child abuse can also include any combination of physical, mental and emotional abuse. Child abandonment may also be considered child abuse some states.
What do you do if you know a child is abused?
If you believe a child is being abused this should be reported to the proper authorities immediately. For instance, in the state of Texas information about abuse should be reported to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services at 1-800-252-5400.
State laws may also require certain professionals (i.e., teachers, doctors, nurses, or child daycare workers) to report abuse within 48 hours. In the state of Texas if these professionals do not report the abuse they can be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to 180 days and/or a fine of up to $2,000.
What if you report suspected child abuse and there was none?
State laws protect persons who report suspected child abuse from criminal and civil prosecution, assuming the report was made in good faith and without malice. Although it’s good to find out all you can about the situation, authorities warn concerned parties not to confront the abuser and avoid investigating the matter without engaging the proper authorities.
If you do come forward and report abuse, the testimony can be used in future legal court proceedings. In some cases, if the information you report is directly related by the child, this could be considered admissible evidence in a trial involving a sexual offense against a child.
Warning signs of abuse?
Although it may be difficult to determine whether a child is being abused, experts suggest there are some warning signs that may be observed such as the following:
- Frequent injuries such as burns, bruises, cuts, or black eyes
- Aggressive behavior
- Lack of reaction to normal emotional stimuli
- Passive or withdrawn behavior
- Complaints of pain
- Fear of going home
- Wearing clothes that are inappropriate for the season (i.e., long-sleeve shirts in the summer to hide bruises)
If the abuse is mental or neglectful you may witness that the child is unusually dirty, malnourished, unattended, absent from school, or hungry and begging for food.