Children can be very resilient, bouncing back from a number of things such as physical trauma, poverty, or chronic illness. Children are able to do this due to their young age and also because they are encouraged, loved and supported through such difficult times. However what happens to children who are blamed, put down, or berated for the things that they do? How can a child flourish in this kind of environment let alone feel confident or safe?
In the U.S. it was reported in 1997 that the emotional abuse rate was at 15 percent out of 817,665 cases stretching across 43 states (Barriere, 2008). In 1995, a study was done of 1,000 women, 15 years of age and up. They reported that 36 percent of women were emotionally abused while growing up; they also found that 39 percent of women were emotionally abused in a relationship within the past 5 years (Barriere, 2008). It’s not just that emotional abuse occurs while children are growing up, it also occurs during adulthood in various types of relationships; for example, between spouses, employers, siblings and more. This issue does affect men, women, and children, old and young.
Emotional and verbal abuse goes hand in hand, but many people have a difficult time defining what verbal abuse is. Verbal abuse can take numerous forms, for example: name-calling, belittling, swearing, insulting, indirect criticism (telling a third party), rejecting or threatening with abandonment, threatening bodily harm, scapegoating or blaming, using sarcasm, or berating (Scheen, 2010).
Some of these methods may seem bizarre to think that they could be used to verbally abuse someone. Children especially may not understand the use of sarcasm, but they understand that they are being put down. Children have been found to have effects ranging from negative self-image and self-destructive acts all the way to antisocial behavior and delayed development (Scheen, 2010). There are long term affects of this type of abuse, such as, becoming victims of abuse later in life, being abusers themselves, becoming depressed or self-destructive later in life as well as developing anxiety in their adult life (Scheen, 2010).
Abuse is a cycle. A cycle that is comparable to a tornado; it destroys and tears down the things in its path. Because children are constantly interacting with their abuser they begin to try and rationalize by asking themselves “what just happened?” and “what did I do to bring on this abuse?” (Newton, 2001). As children, they are immature in their thinking and don’t have the full ability to understand what, how, and why these kinds of situations occur in their life. As a result children form behaviors that can develop into pathological difficulties for them that they can carry throughout their life (Newton, 2001). Children learn about relationships as well as social interactions from their parents and other adults that they observe frequently. If this is disrupted by such emotional or verbal abuse children learn a distorted sense of relationships. This causes children to also struggle in many social situations, because they have learned one way of interacting while most other children have learned another (Newton, 2001). These are problems that families and communities are dealing with more and more.
Is this type of threat real?
Some people may feel that abuse or at least that emotional/verbal abuse is not a problem or maybe even that others are making it up. Part of the reason for this can be attributed to the fact that emotional and verbal abuse is extremely difficult to prove (Barriere, 2008). Emotional abuse for example, is often wrapped up in other behaviors or more hurtful secrets. Many cases are unreported due to the fact that there is no standard definition for emotional abuse itself (Barriere, 2008).
How this issue plays out in public policy
There are policies that have been enacted to help combat these growing trends. One such policy comes from Jennifer’s law, a statute that explains how the criminal justice system needs to give timely and accurate criminal information to organizations and agencies that are involved in the protection of children and families. This law also emphasizes the need to enforce child abuse and neglect laws such as child sexual assault and more. Jennifer’s law also supports the establishment as well as the maintenance of law enforcement and media collaboration to share useful information for the purposes of identifying and capturing possible criminals (106th Congress — 2nd Session, 2000).
States may be able to receive grant funding under this law for the purpose of refining their ability to report missing and or unidentified people (106th Congress — 2nd Session, 2000). When the media and law enforcement work together they often benefit greatly from one another. The police can get word around faster about what is happening and what they may need from the public; while the media gets their story and information straight from the source.
Where can I get help?
There are also organizations whose sole propose is to improve the lives of children and families. One of these is the non-profit Dream Catchers for Abused Children and they deal with many forms of abuse and neglect of children. Their goals are to lower the abuse statistics of children, educate people about the truth of abuse and to be a resource for others to turn to for help and recovery. They assist in multiple public programs to help stop crime, such as, amber alert, sex offender registries; they collaborate with law enforcement officials, and many other organizations (Dream Catchers for Abused Children, 2007).
Dream Catchers also provide education programs for victims of abuse, training on advocacy and children’s rights and community education and outreach as well as many others. This is a worldwide organization dedicated to saving and improving the lives of the children of the world (Dream Catchers for Abused Children, 2007). They do not address emotional or verbal abuse as much as physical or sexual abuse, but they do work to help heal the wounds that are created from child abuse and neglect.
No matter what type of abuse is being suffered it is harmful and hurtful. No child should have to feel afraid, put down, or the sting of a mark left behind by a once trusted person. There are so many resources in the world to help not only the abused, but the abusers as well. This is a problem worth fixing and more importantly worth preventing, for the sake of our future as communities and as families.
Kali is from the Midwest and has been studying child development in Idaho working towards her Bachelor’s degree. For the past two years she has taught preschool. She enjoys being around children and learning about them and from them.
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