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Long-Term Effects of Child Abuse
Child abuse and neglect are a serious social problem that has detrimental psychological, physical, behavioral, and societal effects on the victim. From the civil point of view, child abuse refers to the cases when the child died or received serious emotional or physical harm. This term also includes any forms of sexual abuse or exploitation and actions that threaten a child’s safety (Children’s Bureau, 2016). According to the estimates, approximately 700,000 American children are abused annually. Evidence shows that 1,670 children died from abuse in 2015 alone, and parents were perpetrators in the majority of these cases (National Children’s Alliance, 2015). Naturally, children who managed to survive abuse experience numerous psychological and physical problems, many of which extend into adulthood. This research offers a brief overview of long-term consequences of abuse on victims’ health and quality of life.
The U.S. law typically recognizes six types of child abuse (Children’s Bureau, 2016). The first type is physical abuse, which includes not only any harm to child’ health but also a threat to his/her safety. Second, neglect occurs when parents or caregivers fail to provide food, shelter, clothing, or medical care that ultimately result in physical and emotional harm. Third, sexual abuse includes any sexual acts or exploitation of a child, such as rape, sex trafficking, prostitution, etc. (Children’s Bureau, 2016). Fourth, emotional maltreatment includes any acts that result in a mental injury and undermined emotional stability. Fifth, parental substance abuse occurs when parents or caregivers expose a child to illegal drugs or other substances by making, selling, or using them in front of him. Finally, abandonment is also classified as a form of abuse because a child does not receive proper care and support (Children’s Bureau, 2016).
However, the consequences of abuse depend both on its type and a variety of other factors (Children’s Bureau, 2013). Thus, a child’s age and developmental level can affect health outcomes. For example, a one-year-old infant will probably not remember acts of abuse, whereas a three-four-years-old child is extremely vulnerable to parental neglect and aggressiveness and will experience them painfully. The duration, regularity, and brutality of abuse and neglect also determine a child’s response, just as the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator (Children’s Bureau, 2013). Moreover, a child’s emotional well-being and personality may also determine the impact of abuse.
Although abuse and neglect may have a different impact, one cannot deny the fact that they are all extremely harmful to a victim’s health and well-being. Long-term physical consequences include lung and liver disease, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, asthma, chronic pain syndromes, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and many others (Children’s Bureau, 2013). Non-sexual abuse is associated with substance use, suicide attempts, risky sexual behavior, and, as a result, increased levels of sexually transmitted infections (Norman et al., 2012). A study exploring long-term health effects of sexual abuse showed that it causes chronic pelvic pain (CPP), various cardiopulmonary symptoms (e.g. shortness of breath, chest pain), and excess weight (Irish, Kobayashi, & Delahanty, 2010).
Psychological symptoms are also widespread among victims of child abuse. Thus, Springer et al. (2007) argued that adults who suffered abuse in childhood have increased risks of depression, anxiety and eating disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PSD). Moreover, abuse and neglect may make victims aggressive, hostile, and anxious and cause severe anxiety and personality disorders in adulthood (Springer et al., 2007). Hall and Hall (2011) noted that depression is by far the most common psychological consequence of abuse, as victims cannot recover from the feeling of worthlessness. They have a negative body image and blame themselves for causing or allowing abuse. Guilt and shame inevitably result in sleep disturbances and ongoing stress (Hall & Hall, 2011).
Young and Widom (2014) argued that child abuse also negatively affects emotional development. Researchers noted that children of abusive parents do not receive the adequate amount of love and support, and their communication with peers in often limited. Children find it difficult to predict parents’ behavior, which may cause social delays in future. More specifically, individuals abused in childhood cannot recognize and process emotional information, which in turn leads to social delays (Young & Widom, 2014). Emotional problems are linked to antisocial behavior and psychopathy as well because people who suffered abuse often experience deficits in empathy. Additionally, evidence shows that emotional abuse may cause schizophrenia and personality disorders, while physical maltreatment is associated with various personality disorders (Carr et al., 2013).
As seen from this discussion, child abuse has adverse effects on victim’s physical and psychological development that usually extend to adulthood. Victims of child abuse and neglect suffer multiple health problems that reduce their quality of life. Moreover, maltreatment creates the vicious circle because individuals who experienced abuse in childhood become less empathetic and emotionally stable, just as their parents. Therefore, awareness of the negative long-term effects of this practice is strongly required to help the victims overcome their fears and painful memories. These individuals should receive both short- and long-term mental health support to be able to manage their emotions more effectively.