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4-1. Introduction

As a society, we like to believe that almost all families are wholesome, healthy, and caring. Television and newspaper stories about children who have been abused and even murdered must be isolated acts, we think, done by deranged or mentally defective people. Most of us want to believe that our family unit will provide each of its members with love, security, and comfort. Unfortunately, too often the family is a place of pain, injury, and instability. Any family member is liable to be or become a victim of abuse, but children are perhaps the least able to protect themselves or understand why the abuse is taking place.

a. The Problem. Since family members protect themselves and each other, the violence in a family unit is often downplayed, covered up, or ignored. It is estimated that there are actually many more cases of child abuse, a major form of family violence, than are reported. The following statistics of reported cases indicate the magnitude of the problem:

(1) There are an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 cases of child abuse reported every year in the United States.

(2) Up to 5,000 children die every year as a result of injury or neglect by their parents. Three out of five reported deaths are children under two years old.

(3) Up to 6,000 children are permanently brain-damaged each year as a result of child abuse.

(4) 60,000 children are reported to be the victims of sexual abuse every year. It is estimated that a more accurate figure would be nearly 500,000 children abused sexually each year.

(5) Researchers disagree on the number of victims of child abuse. Some social researchers estimate that over 1.5 million children are kicked, punched, or bitten by their parents every year, and another 750,000 children may be beaten annually. Remember, even these numbers may be too small. Surveys conducted depend on self- reporting, and how many parents did not admit to abusing their children?

b. History of Child Abuse. Child abuse is a problem that is centuries old. This problem is not just characteristic of the twentieth century. As early as 1884, Great Britain founded the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in an effort to protect children from cruel treatment. Similar societies were founded in other countries. The first state in the United States to legislate protection for children was New York with a law protecting children passed in the late 1800s. Through the years other states passed such laws. In the early 1960s, child abuse was identified as an observable, clinical condition which could be a serious threat to a child's life. Child abuse was given the medical name battered child syndrome. Today the term most commonly used is child abuse. In 1962, the federal Children's Bureau prepared a law detailing how to report child abuse. By 1970, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands had their own laws for reporting child abuse. In 1974, Congress established the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. Gradually the problem has been identified and legislation enacted for dealing with child abuse. Today, there are resources available for children and families who need help. The task now is to work on the problem of preventing child abuse.

David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015