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Child Abuse: Who's At Risk And The Outcomes?

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892 words
Social Issues

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As Rothery and Cameron (1990) report "It is now clear from historical and epidemiological analysis that although child sexual abuse is a recently recognized problem, it has always been present in human societies and people of all ages including those born early in the present century can recall such abuse in their childhood (p. 183). In our society today we have become alarmingly familiar with reported cases of child sexual abuse. There has been many ideas written about how this abuse can be predicted. Socioeconomic status, race, and gender are thought to be determining factors of such abuse. Others have made predictions of outcomes of the abused such as depression, self-esteem, and suicidal behavior. This paper will show that it is more than just race and social status that can determine whether or not certain children are at risk. It will also show that the outcomes for the victims are very similar.
Risk Factors
In the words of Gerbner, Ross, and Zigler (1980) "Malnourishment, sexual abuse, failure to feed and clothe a child, beating a child, torturing a child, withholding medical care from a child, allowing a child to live in a "deprived or depraved" environment, and keeping a child out of school have all been defined at various times and in various laws as "child abuse"(p. 82). The definition of child abuse varies over time, across cultures, and between different social and cultural groups. Many of the books and articles that were researched for this paper had difficulty defining child abuse. Professional groups were given a list of items and were told to choose which ones they considered to be child abuse. The results were at varying degrees which shows that there is not a precise definition that society adheres to when classifying such abuse. As Starr has noted, "Two major characteristics seem to be common to conditions defined as abuse. First, there must be some clear, identifiable harm or injury to the child and second, there must be evidence of clear intent on the part of the parent to produce this injury or harm" (p. 11).
Socioeconomic Status and Race

Parton points out that "There is substantial evidence of a strong relationship between poverty and child abuse and neglect"(p. 153). It has been stated that even though the public is now more aware of cases of child abuse, the proportion of the cases are still from the lower classes. It has been reported that "the most severe injuries have occurred in the poorest families"(Parton, 1985, p. 153). This may be true except some other factors are contributed. First the public examines lower socioeconomic classes with more bias. Second lower classes are more familiar with social agencies that have had access to their houses. Third professional groups have a tendency to classify lower class children with the same symptoms as middle class children as abused while classifying the middle class symptoms as accidents. In the words of the researchers, Daniel, Hampton, and Newberger (1983), "Discussions with physicians and empirical research suggest that social and economic characteristics of families play an important role in determining which children are labeled as "abused." So before physicians report child abuse they take into account the parents' socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and the severity of injury. Physicians recognized black children two times higher to be victims of child abuse when given a similar injury over white children. Lower-class white children suffering from major injuries were more likely to be classified as abused than were upper-class white children"(p. 646). Social Learning Theory

When looking at factors to determine who is at risk, one must consider the social learning model. This says that people are in large a product of their social environment. This model is put into perspective by Gerbner et al (1980), "If people are indeed a product of their social history, then prevention of many of the conditions with which our professional fields have been concerned means changing the social conditions. But this idea threatens economic arrangements that are very profitable. Moreover, it threatens the psychiatric establishment because it suggests that even battered children may become parents who are loving and supportive if their social worlds are more supportive and lead to improvements in self-esteem and competence. It implies that abusive parenting is not caused by internal defect but rather by the lack of access to jobs, housing, and educational opportunities controlled by those who control the system" (p. 115). If we are a product of our society then there needs to be a point where we break the cycle of the repeating action of child abuse so that future generations will not learn from our mistakes.

Outcomes of Victims

In every case of child sexual abuse there are unique characteristics. Some victims go on to fully come to terms with what happened to them and others may not be as fortunate. Some are haunted by nightmares, questions of "Why me?" and feelings of shame. There is however an unfortunate similarity of characteristics of those that have experienced child abuse. School performance, self-esteem, weight, depression, and suicidal behavior have been attributed to victims.

School Performance

"The physically abused children studied stood out as markedly problematic in school, at home, and in the community, displaying academic deficits, problem behaviors, lowered self-esteem, delinquency, elevated feelings of aggression, and pervasive adjustment ...

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