Types of abuse.
Physical abuse refers to striking or beating another person with the hands or an object, but may include assault with a knife, gun, or other weapon. Physical abuse also includes such behaviors as locking someone in a closet or other small space, depriving someone of sleep, burning, gagging, or tying them up, etc. Physical abuse of infants may include shaking them, dropping them on the floor, or throwing them against the wall or other hard object. Sexual Sexual abuse refers to inappropriate sexual contact between a child or an adult and someone who has some kind of family or professional authority over them.
Sexual abuse may include verbal remarks, fondling or kissing, or attempted or completed intercourse. Sexual contact between a child and a biological relative is known as incest, although some therapists extend the term to cover sexual contact between a child and any trusted caregiver, including relatives by marriage. Girls are more likely than boys to be abused sexually; according to a conservative estimate, 38% of girls and 16% of boys are sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday.
Verbal abuse refers to regular and consistent belittling, name-calling, labeling, or ridicule of a person; but it may also include spoken threats. It is one of the most difficult forms of abuse to prove because it does not leave physical scars or other evidence, but it is nonetheless hurtful. Verbal abuse may occur in schools or workplaces as well as in families.
Child abuse first attracted national attention in the United States in the 1950s, when a Denver pediatrician named C. Henry Kempe began publishing his findings regarding x-ray evidence of intentional injuries to small children. Kempe’s research was followed by numerous investigations of other signs of child abuse and neglect, including learning disorders, malnutrition, failure to thrive, conduct disorders, emotional retardation, and sexually transmitted diseases in very young children.
Statistics from the mid-1990s indicate that although child abuse is found at all levels of income and educational achievement in the United States, children born into poor families are 12 times as likely to be abused as the children of middle-class or wealthy families, without regard to race or ethnic background. About 25% of children who are abused or neglected are younger than two years of age. Both sexes are equally affected. As of 2000, between 1,000 and 1,200 children die each year in the United States as the result of physical abuse. Of those who survive, 20% suffer permanent physical injury. Children who suffer from birth defects, developmental delays, or chronic illnesses have a higher risk of being abused by parents or other caregivers.
Elder abuse has also become a subject of national concern in the last two decades. As older adults are living longer, many become dependent for years on adult caregivers, who may be either their own adult children or nursing home personnel. Care of the elderly can be extremely stressful, especially if the older adult is suffering from dementia. Elder abuse may include physical hitting or slapping; withholding their food or medications; tying them to their chair or bed; neglecting to bathe them or help them to the toilet; taking their personal possessions, including money or property; and restricting or cutting off their contacts with friends and relatives.
Abusive professional relationships.
Adults can also be abused by sexually exploitative doctors, therapists, clergy, and other helping professionals. Although instances of this type of abuse were dismissed prior to the 1980s as consensual participation in sexual activity, most professionals now recognize that these cases actually reflect the practitioner’s abuse of social and educational power. About 85% of sexual abuse cases in the professions involve male practitioners and female clients; another 12% involve male practitioners and male clients; and the remaining 3% involve female practitioners and either male or female clients. Ironically, many of these abusive relationships hurt women who sought professional help in order to deal with the effects of childhood abuse.