Few issues are as inherently disturbing as that of child abuse. The subject is vastly unsettling on a variety of levels, whether the abuse is emotional, physical, and/or sexual, because it stands as a violation of a perceived natural order. Children are the most vulnerable of human beings, and it is incumbent upon adults, parents or otherwise, to protect and nurture. Abuse, then, completely violates this fundamentally observed belief. It is also typically seen as something of a horrific inevitability, and the result of isolated, deviant behaviors or deep psychological problems. The latter is most certainly true, at least to some extent. However, the single, consistent aspect in child abuse is its cyclical nature; abused children often grow to be abusers themselves. This powerfully indicates that, no matter the form it takes, child abuse is a learned behavior, and may then be approached and eliminated through a concentrated focus on this element of it.
History, Complications, and Further Issues
One of the inherent problems in addressing issues of child abuse is in defining it, and it is, in a sense, something like pornography; it is difficult to assert what it is, yet people are confident in knowing it when they see it. A substantial reason for this problem lies in the fact that the rights of children have undergone enormous changes over the centuries. It is, in fact, only relatively recently that children have not been viewed as the property of their parents or guardians, for their historic status is virtually devoid of any human rights status. While the days of the child as object are, thankfully, largely gone in most nations, other problems have arisen which render defining abuse difficult, some of which are actual repercussions of the modern awareness of abuse. That is to say, the dilemma is compounded by concerns of how and when it is appropriate for a parent to physically discipline a child, and the parental spanking as correct discipline from one parent may easily be construed as physical abuse by another.
Then, adding to these issues is another irony; as far more aware as the world today is of the dangers and prevalence of child abuse, the abuse itself is often mistaken. When people usually think of the subject, they summon ideas of the horrors of physical and/or sexual abuse, and sometimes of emotional damage inflicted by adults. However, of the four recognized categories of child abuse – neglect, physical, sexual, and psychological – neglect is by far the most widely reported, running to seventy percent of known cases. It is also, not surprisingly, the most insidious because evidence of it is frequently not seen until a great deal of harm has been done. Neglect can also be inflicted in any number of ways, from a failure to provide adequate nutrition to a harmful lack of supervision or minimal interest in the child. That this “invisible” form of abuse nonetheless remains the most predominantly reported is consequently an additionally disturbing aspect, as it seems likely that a great deal of it is never identified.
As bleak as the entire scenario of child abuse is, one specific factor relating to it is incalculably helpful, and is the best means for approaching remedies for it. Child abuse is rarely generated from any similar history, and this cyclical nature of it, in any of its manifestations, serves to provide an enormous asset in eliminating it. The evidence is incontrovertible; virtually every study conducted in relation to the generational patterns of child abuse point to its being a learned behavior. This aspect has, in fact, become ingrained in popular thinking, but that by no means eviscerates the truth of the situation. The latest research and the most recent studies demonstrate that, “a parent’s history of maltreatment elevates the risk of her or his offspring’s abuse or neglect, perpetrated by that parent and/or another caregiver”.
Not unexpectedly, child abuse is also frequently connected to other, cyclical societal problems. For example, the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, presented to Congress in 2010. Those parents facing enormous stress in earning a livelihood and securing acceptable living conditions are more prone to vent their frustrations on their children. Then, deprived environments are usually unaltered from generation to generation and are, subsequently, breeding grounds for patterns of abuse.
As grim as the picture of child abuse is, it is crucial to seize upon this factor of patterns as potentially instrumental in combating it, because the nature of any behavior cycle must indicate a behavior that has been learned. The abused child is never merely a victim, for children absorb as lessons, in a sense, virtually everything that is done to them. It is all experience, and the ways in which a child may take experience in may all too often promote innate desires and/or psychological needs to reproduce the behavior later in life, or even while still a victim; studies have documented that abused children are far more likely to harm or abuse domestic pets in their care. The “lessons” taken in by the abused child are tragic, but the important reality, if the subject is to be effectively addressed, is that they are lessons. Furthermore, there is encouraging evidence that the cycles of abuse need not be self-perpetuating, which indicates that some victims maintain a degree of awareness helpful in enabling them to end the patterns. The research typically indicates that a third of all abused children will become abusers themselves. This is, of course, not good news. However, it also supports the important fact that the link between the abused child and the adult abuser is by no means inevitable.
Any approach to ending child abuse is intrinsically a negative one, for it must involve dealing with a circumstance of harm already occurring. Clearly, the abuse must be in effect before it can be prevented from recurring, and this translates to the regrettable reality that the child has already suffered. However, in viewing child abuse as an actual illness, the scenario changes. Disease must be manifested before it can be treated, and the sad fact of the disease must not be permitted to overshadow the extraordinary opportunity for defeating it. This is very much the case with child abuse, as so blatantly a learned behavior, addressed as such and from the onset of any intervention, can be “unlearned”. No matter the form it takes, child abuse is a crime that runs in cycles because it has been “taught”; approached as such, it can be eliminated, case by case, through a concentrated focus on this element of it.