What is Child Abuse? - Definition & Facts

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  • 0:00 Child Abuse Defined
  • 1:06 Four Types of Child Abuse
  • 2:54 Other Types of Abuse
  • 4:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that more than five children die each day from child abuse? In this lesson, learn about the different types of child abuse, general statistics, and more.

Child Abuse Defined

In America, there are over 3.3 million reports of child abuse allegations every year. What constitutes child abuse and neglect varies for each state, though all state laws have to meet the minimum requirements as set forth by federal law. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), as amended by the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010, defines child abuse as the following:

  • 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.

Each state is required to come up with its own definition of child abuse and neglect. The child protection laws in most states do not include harm caused by people other than parents or other caregivers. For example, strangers or acquaintances are not included in most child protection laws.

Four Types of Child Abuse

There are four major types of child maltreatment that are recognized in most states:

  1. Physical abuse
  2. Neglect
  3. Sexual abuse
  4. Emotional abuse

First, let's discuss physical abuse, which is any physical injury that's caused by a parent, caregiver, or some other person that is responsible for the child; and a result of punching, stabbing, burning, shaking, hitting (whether it be hitting with a hand or using some other object), etc. Spanking and other forms of physical discipline are not forms of child abuse, as many believe that in those cases the child does not receive bodily injury and the discipline is reasonable.

Neglect refers to the failure of the parent, guardian, or some other responsible caregiver to take care of the basic needs of the child. Neglect can be physical, such as leaving your child without parental supervision for hours at a time; medical, such as not getting your child the medical care that he or she needs; educational, such as not educating your child or ignoring that your child has special education needs; emotional, such as allowing your child to drink alcohol or not providing emotional support.

Sexual abuse refers to the parent, guardian, or some other responsible caregiver coercing the child to engage in sexual behaviors, including exploiting a child sexually, molestation, incest, forced prostitution, sodomy, and touching a child's private areas.

Emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse, refers to behaviors that have a negative influence on the child's self-worth or emotional development. Emotional abuse may include withholding love until your child behaves in an 'appropriate' manner, constantly criticizing your child, or threatening your child.

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