Child Abuse

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Heather Erickson
Research paper
What is child abuse? It is the physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect of a child. Physical abuse is an injury resulting from physical aggression, like burns, bruises, hitting, and shaking. Emotional abuse is intentional actions that makes the child think that they are worthless and/or unloved, like when one is being degraded, given harsh excessive criticism, and ridiculing. Sexual abuse is any sexual act between a child and an adult, like using a child for sexual stimulation, making child porn, or fondling, exposing a child to adult sexuality. Neglect of a child includes failure to provide a child with the basic needs like food, shelter, clothing, and lack of love, safety, attention and nurturing. These are just some examples from each category of abuse. Some abuse to children is not in any of these categories and is classified as “other” such as abandonment.

There is no standard approach to identifying child abuse but the process typically begins when the doctor has a feeling that something is not how it should be. Physical, sexual, and neglectful abuse may manifest with physical signs but emotional abuse is difficult to ascertain if the physical components are absent. The doctor should investigate any serious behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or other mental disorders. Specific signs of physical abuse would be soft tissue injuries (contusions, welts, lacerations, abrasions) that form regular patterns, may resemble the shape of the thing uses to inflict the injury such as, a hand, belt buckle electric cord, or the injury could be in various stages of healing. Some physical signs of sexual abuse would include pain, itching, bruises, or bleeding around the genitals, soft tissue tears to the external genitalia, vagina or anus, a sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy, or even behavior that is bizarre for the child. Signs of emotional abuse include withdrawal, an impaired sense of self-worth, failure to thrive, delayed physical, emotional, intellectual development. Physical signs of neglect are constant hunger, fatigue, and poor hygiene, unattended physical or dental problems.

There was no real protection from child abuse until 1875, when the world’s first organization devoted entirely to child protection, ‘the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’ was created. Prior to this children had little protection, unless it was serious like a case in 1809 when a New York shop keeper was convicted of sadistically assaulting his slave and her three-year-old daughter. Prosecution wasn’t the only answer either before 1875, in Massachusetts had a law that gave magistrates the authority to remove a child from the parents who didn’t treat them right. In 1866, Massachusetts also passed a law authorizing judges to intervene when a child was being abused or neglected, the judges had the authority to stop the abuse. In the beginning of 1875, interventions to protect children were slowly coming along, children weren’t protected like they are today but adults were aware of the child abuse happening and tried to help. In 1874, nine-year-old Mary Ellen Wilson lived with her guardians and was beaten and neglected until a religious missionary named Etta Wheeler learned of Mary’s abuse and was determined to rescue her. Wheeler told the police about the abuse but they declined to investigate, then she sought help from a child helping charity but they lacked the authority to do anything. Eventually, Wheeler got advice from Henry Bergh, the influential founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Bergh asked his lawyer, Elbridge Gerry, to find a legal way to rescue the child, and they employed a variant of the writ of habeas corpus to remove Mary from her guardians. It was because of this, and the fact that there were no agency or organization that was responsible for the protection of children, that Bergh and Gerry decided to create a...
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