Children can face problems at home, at school and in public, but abuse at the hands of a parent or other adult should not be one of them. Unfortunately, abuse is a reality for far too many children.
In the United States, a child abuse report is made every 10 seconds, which adds up to 3 million reports each year. Every day, from four to seven children die from child abuse and neglect. Child abuse seriously impacts the lives of its victims, as well as their families and communities.
Who are the Victims and Perpetrators of Child Abuse?
Child abuse victims represent all ages and backgrounds; perpetrators, as well, are not limited to a single demographic. The problem is pervasive throughout society, but follows certain trends:
- Young children are more often the victims of abuse, with over 25% of abused children under age 3.
- Over 45% of abused children are 5 or younger.
- Of children who died due to abuse or neglect, over 70% were under 3, and 44% were younger than a year old.
- Child abuse reports are split nearly equally between boys and girls.
- Over 80% of perpetrators in child abuse reports are parents.
Psychological Impacts on Child Abuse Victims
Children who are abused or neglected are more likely to face psychological issues, both in childhood and later in life. These children can show signs of depression as early as 3, and are more likely to exhibit violent behavior and borderline personality disorders as they grow older.
Statistics on teenagers who were victims of child abuse include these sobering facts:
- They are 25% more likely to become pregnant.
- By age 21, 80% met criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder, including eating disorders, depression, suicide attempts and anxiety.
- They are 59% more likely to be arrested while still juveniles, 28% more likely face arrest as adults, and 30% more likely to commit violent crimes.
Long-term psychological effects of child abuse may include panic and dissociative disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder and anger. In addition, some adults who suffered from child abuse or neglect face a higher risk for intimate partner violence, alcohol or illicit drug abuse and suicide attempts.
The Importance of Psychology in Treating Child Abuse Victims
Child psychology focuses on human development as it applies to children. It strives to find answers to whether behavior results from a child’s innate nature, or the environment in which he or she was raised.
For children who grow up with child abuse, psychology has much to offer, as it can provide a positive impact on the quality of victims’ lives. To help children heal from abuse, psychologists often recommend individual counseling, play therapy or family counseling.
Early intervention is essential, starting with an assessment of the child’s safety, and evaluation of behavioral and emotional problems. Another important step is earning the trust of the child, as is convincing the child that the abuse is not his or her fault.
Success of any treatment for child abuse victims can depend on the severity and length of the abuse.
Adults who were victims of child abuse or neglect often seek psychological help for issues stemming from the abuse, such as depression, substance abuse, anxiety or eating disorders. Psychologists typically help them deal with the problem for which they sought help, as well as the abuse that caused it.
Individual or group counseling may take years to undo the damage of childhood abuse, but healing is possible. Many survivors of child abuse find it helpful to enter into therapy when beginning relationships with their partners or starting families of their own.
Psychology Can Help Child Abuse Survivors
Children never deserve to be abused, but those who survive childhood abuse can greatly benefit from the help of a professional therapist. Individuals who are interested in psychology and enjoy working with kids can choose from a number of rewarding careers that can help children lead fulfilling lives, from child psychologist or school counselor to art, family, or animal-assisted therapist.