Crime Overview Child Abuse

Child abuse and neglect are defined by both state laws and by the federal government. Through the federal legislation of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), child abuse was defined nationally and the states were given a statutory minimum standard for the definition of child abuse and neglect. Criminal codes vary from state to state, so the specific definitions of child abuse can vary. Through CAPTA, the federal government set forth the following definition of child abuse:

An act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker that results in the death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation of a child, or which places the child in an imminent risk of serious harm.

Child abuse is a controversial subject because only recently and in certain countries has it been seen as a major social problem and the reason for psychological and social problems. Child abuse is a general term for the four major types of mistreatment of children. These four types of mistreatment are neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse. Some states have also set out definitions for abandonment or substance-abuse related child abuse.

Neglect is a when a parent, guardian or caretaker fails to provide basic human necessities for the child, such as lack of food, shelter, medical care or supervision. Many states also include the failure to provide educational services to the child as neglect.

Physical abuse is a non-accidental injury to a child, such as shaking a baby, hitting, kicking, or burning. Physical abuse results in any kind of physical impairment to the child. Some states have also included threats of violence to the child as physical abuse.

Emotional abuse is in many states included in the neglect definitions. But it generally means that the child's emotional state or physiological well being has been injured, creating an observable change in the child's behavior.

Sexual abuse is defined by all states in their definitions of child abuse. Some states are explicit in their definitions. Other states include child sexual exploitation, such as entering a child into prostitution. Children that are sexually abused are 2.5 times more likely to develop alcohol problems and 3.8 times more likely to suffer from drug addictions.

Around 906,000 children are subject to abuse and neglect every year, and children aged 0-3 are the most likely to experience the abuse. 1,500 children perish every year from child abuse and neglect, which equals out to about 4 deaths every day. Out of all the children who are killed every year, about 79% of them are younger than 4. There are long-term effects from being abused as a child, such as psychiatric disorders including depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 25% more of teens who were abused as a child are likely to experience pregnancy, and are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile. Out of all the men in prison, 14.4% of them were abused as children, and 36.7% of women in prison were also abused when they were children. These statistics may not be completely accurate due to most abused and neglected children never being brought to the attention of government authorities. There has been research that show associations between children who have been abused or neglected and chronic health conditions, which can shorten a life span.

There have been increased punishments connecting with abuse. For example, sexual predators who try to entice children under 16 into performing sexual activities face a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000. If the person violates this law a second time, they face five years in prison and a higher fine, and the punishments continue to increase upon further violations of the law.

Because children are often unable to defend themselves from child abuse and are incapable of getting help on their own, the states have provided standards that must be followed for reporting suspected child abuse. Doctors and school personnel, for example, are required by law to report suspected child abuse to the appropriate authorities. All states have agencies that investigate child abuse and assign social workers or case workers to determine if a crime has been committed and to protect the child from any further abuse.