Child Abuse: Myths, Effects, and Risk Factors
Tue, April 20, 2021

Child Abuse: Myths, Effects, and Risk Factors


Child abuse is more than about black eyes, according to Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. of HelpGuide, a guide to mental health and wellness. While physical abuse is shocking to people because of the marks and scars it leaves, not all signs of child abuse are noticeable. Ignoring the needs of a child, putting them in supervised, dangerous situations, exposing them to sexual situations, or making them feel useless or stupid are also considered as child abuse and neglect. These can leave deep, lasting scars on children.

The effect of child abuse—regardless of its type—is serious emotional harm. It’s important to speak if you suspect a child is suffering from abuse. The child and the abuser can get the help they need if the problem is caught as soon as possible.

Alarming Statistics On Child Abuse

According to Robert Osadan and Elizabeth Reid for the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 90% of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way and 68% are abused by a family member, as cited by non-profit organization

Osadan and Reid cited a study done by Ronald J. Goldman, Ph.D. and Juliette D.G. Goldman, Ph.D. in Australia, revealing that 82% of their sample reported some kind of sexual experience with another person before 13 years old and 60% of their sample had been with other children. Published in journal portal Taylor & Francis Online, Goldman and Goldman found that children’s sexual experiences with adults were experienced by 28% of girls and 9% of boys.



The victims’ mean age was 9.8 years for girls and 10.3 for boys. The mean age of adult sexual abusers of girls was 30.5 years and 22.4 years of boys. More than 90% of abusers were men, with girls experiencing mainly heterosexual advances. 24% of abusers were strangers while 76% were known by the children.  

Teachers in many western countries are mandatory reporters. Mandatory reporters are required by law to report incidences of child abuse and molestation. The US, Canada, most of Europe, and Australia “put this law on the books.” Each year, the US investigates about two million allegations, affecting one out of 16 families with children below 18 years old.

In Australia, investigations skyrocketed from 66,265 in 2000 to 2001 to 162,259 in 2008 and 2009. The figure declined to 99,649 in 2010 to 2011 and rose again to 106,754 in 2011 and 2012. Meanwhile, investigations in Canada rose from 135,261 in 1998 to 235,842 in 2008.  These numbers are only estimates. Each national government assigns professionals to investigate all allegations of child abuse or molestation. In the US, investigations only substantiate only about 22% of the reports and had “alternative responses.” 9% were focused on addressing family problems to protect the child.

In 2012, the UK reported that 50,573 children were on child protection registers or subject to a child protection plan. 42,850 children were registered in England, 2,706 in Scotland, 2,890 in Wales, and 2,127 in Northern Ireland.  

Professional membership organization National Children’s Alliance explained that neglect is the most common form of maltreatment. Three-quarters (75%) suffered neglect, 17.2% suffered physical abuse, and 8.45% suffered sexual abuse. Some of them were polyvictimized, meaning they were subjected to more than one form of abuse.



Debunking the Myths Surrounding Child Abuse

1.      Only Younger Children Are Abused

Abuse can happen to babies, children, or teens, said the Queensland Government. It may seem easy to think of a teen’s capability to fight back, but it’s a struggle to stand up to an abuser, especially if they are a parent. Child abuse is an abuse of power and trust. Cruel words, including sexual or physical abuse, can be harmful to both teens and children.

2.      Children Fabricate Stories About Abuse

Children rarely lie about abuse. A victim of abuse may change what they have said if they are pressured or threatened to deny what happened. Or they fear being removed by their family if the child someone about it.

3.      Children Are to be Blamed for Abuse

Never blame children for abuse! Adults are responsible for their own actions and they have no right to harm a child no matter how they behave.

4.      Abused Children Become Abusers

Abused children are more likely to perpetuate the cycle of abuse as adults, repeating what they have experienced when they were kids. However, many adult survivors of child abuse are motivated to protect their children against the abuse they went through and become better parents.

5.      Abuse Only Happens In Poor Families

It can happen regardless of the family’s wealth or education level. People who abuse children can come from any culture, religion, profession, and background.

Effects of Child Abuse

1.      Physical

The Child Welfare Information Gateway, the US’ congressionally-mandated and funded information service, noted that childhood maltreatment has been correlated to a higher risk for long-term or future health problems. Such risks include but not limited to diabetes, brain damage, malnutrition, functional limitations, arthritis, and more. Victims of sexual abuse were also more susceptible to contracting hepatitis C and HIV.

2.      Psychological

Victims may struggle to trust people or determine who is trustworthy, making it harder for them to maintain relationships in adulthood. Lack of trust can also result in unhealthy relationships because the person does not know what constitutes a good relationship. Abused children experience difficulty in regulating their emotions. Hence, their emotions are released in unexpected ways since their feelings “get stuffed down.”

Adult survivors can suffer from unexplained anxiety, depression, or anger. They may also consume alcohol or drugs to suppress their feelings. Moreover, abuse can also disrupt a child’s brain development, causing impairments to its core functions: self-control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Victims are also at risk of developing cognitive problems such as difficulties in paying attention and learning.  



Risk Factors for Child Abuse and Neglect

Domestic violence is a risk factor for child abuse even if the abused parent tries their best to protect their children. It is still damaging, so getting out is the best way to help the children. Parents who are drunk or high may be unable to care for their kids, make intelligent parenting decisions, or control dangerous impulses. These can lead to physical abuse.  

Mentally ill or traumatized parents may be withdrawn or distant from their kids or quick to anger without understanding the reason behind it. Treating a caregiver’s mental illness entails better care for the children. The lack of (or poor) parenting skills can also be a risk factor, especially if the parents themselves were victims of child abuse. This means they may only how to raise their kids the way they were raised. Therapy, parenting classes, and caregiver support groups are excellent sources for honing a person’s parenting skills.

Victims of child abuse do not make up stories about abuse. We should listen and offer them our love and support. Therapy is a great solution for survivors as it allows them to break the cycle of abuse, allowing them to become better parents.