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4-2. Definitions

A problem in reporting and studying child abuse is that there are many definitions of terms rather than standardization of terms. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act defines child abuse and neglect as "the physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, negligent treatment, or maltreatment of a child under the age of eighteen, by a person who is responsible for the child's welfare, under circumstances which indicate that the child's health or welfare is harmed or threatened thereby." A general working definition for child abuse might be this. Child abuse is a nonaccidental injury or pattern of injuries to a child, injuries for which there is no reasonable explanation. The word "injuries" includes nonaccidental physical injury, neglect, emotional abuse, and sexual molestation. These definitions will be helpful in understanding the problem of child abuse.

NOTE: Parents are the most frequent child abusers. Other caretakers (parent's friends, relatives, day care workers) may also be child abusers.

a. Physical Abuse. Physical abuse includes severe beating, burning, shaking, human biting, and strangulation.

b. Neglect. Neglect refers to failure to provide a child with the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.

c. Emotional Abuse. Emotional abuse includes excessive, aggressive, or other parental behavior that places unreasonable demands on a child to perform more than he is capable of doing. Examples of such abuse include belittling or verbal attacks; lack of love, support, or guidance; constant, excessive teaching.

d. Sexual Abuse. Exploitation of a child for the sexual gratification of an adult defines sexual abuse. Examples of sexual abuse include rape, incest, fondling of a child's genitals by an adult, and exhibitionism (a compulsion to show the genitals).

David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015