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Child Abuse


Child abuse takes many forms. Children can be physically or sexually assaulted, and they may also suffer from emotional abuse and practical neglect. Whatever form it takes, child abuse is a serious national problem.

It is especially difficult to know how much child abuse occurs. Infants obviously cannot talk, and toddlers and older children who are abused usually do not tell anyone about the abuse. They might not define it as abuse, they might be scared to tell on their parents, they might blame themselves for being abused, or they might not know whom they could talk to about their abuse. Whatever the reason, they usually remain silent, thus making it very difficult to know how much abuse takes place.

Using information from child protective agencies throughout the country, the US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that almost 800,000 children (2008 data) are victims of child abuse and neglect annually (Administration on Children Youth and Families, 2010). [48] This figure includes some 122,000 cases of physical abuse; 69,000 cases of sexual abuse; 539,000 cases of neglect; 55,000 cases of psychological maltreatment; and 17,000 cases of medical neglect. The total figure represents about 1 percent of all children under the age of 18. Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg, as many cases of child abuse never become known. A 1994 Gallup poll asked adult respondents about physical abuse they suffered as children. Twelve percent said they had been abused (punched, kicked, or choked), yielding an estimate of 23 million adults in the United States who were physically abused as children (D. W. Moore, 1994).[49] Some studies estimate that about 25 percent of girls and 10 percent of boys are sexually abused at least once before turning 18 (Garbarino, 1989). [50] In a study of a random sample of women in Toronto, Canada, 42 percent said they had been sexually abused before turning 16 (Randall & Haskell, 1995). [51] Whatever the true figure is, most child abuse is committed by parents, stepparents, and other people the children know, not by strangers.

Children and Our Future


Is Spanking a Good Idea?

As the text discusses, spanking underlies many episodes of child abuse. Nonetheless, many Americans approve of spanking. In the 2010 General Social Survey, 69 percent of respondents agreed that “it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard, spanking.” Reflecting this “spare the rod and spoil the child” belief, most parents have spanked their children. National survey evidence finds that two-thirds of parents of toddlers ages 19–35 months have spanked their child at least once, and one-fourth spank their child sometimes or often.

The reason that many people approve of spanking and that many parents spank is clear: They believe that spanking will teach a child a lesson and improve a child’s behavior and/or attitude. However, most child and parenting experts believe the opposite is true. When children are spanked, they say, and especially when they are spanked regularly, they are more likely to misbehave as a result. If so, spanking ironically produces the opposite result from what a parent intends.

Spanking has this effect for several reasons. First, it teaches children that they should behave to avoid being punished. This lesson makes children more likely to misbehave if they think they will not get caught, as they’d not learn to behave for its own sake. Second, spanking also teaches children that it is OK to hit someone to solve an interpersonal dispute and even to hit someone if you love her or him, because that is what spanking is all about. Third, children who are spanked may come to resent their parents and thus be more likely to misbehave because their bond with their parents weakens.

This harmful effect of spanking is especially likely when spanking is frequent. As Alan Kazin, a former president of the American Psychological Association (APA) explains, “Corporal punishment has really serious side effects. Children who are hit become more aggressive.” When spanking is rare, this effect may or may not occur, according to research on this issue, but this research also finds that other forms of discipline are as effective as a rare spanking in teaching a child to behave. This fact leads Kazin to say that even rare spanking should be avoided. “It suppresses [misbehavior] momentarily. But you haven’t really changed its probability of occurring. Physical punishment is not needed to change behavior. It’s just not needed.”

Sources: Berlin et al., 2009; Harder, 2007; Park, 2010; Regalado, Sareen, Inkelas, Wissow, & Halfon, 2004 [52]

Why does child abuse occur? Structurally speaking, children are another powerless group and, as such, are easy targets of violence. Moreover, the best evidence indicates that child abuse is more common in poorer families. The stress these families suffer from their poverty is thought to be a major reason for the child abuse occurring within them (Gosselin, 2010). [53] As with spousal violence, then, economic inequality is partly to blame for child abuse. Cultural values and practices also matter. In a nation where spanking is common, it is inevitable that physical child abuse will occur, because there is a very thin line between a hard spanking and physical abuse: Not everyone defines a good, hard spanking in the same way. As two family violence scholars once noted, “Although most physical punishment [of children] does not turn into physical abuse, most physical abuse begins as ordinary physical punishment” (Wauchope & Straus, 1990, p. 147). [54] (See Note 10.17 "Children and Our Future" for a further discussion of spanking.)

Abused children are much more likely than children who are not abused to end up with various developmental, psychological, and behavioral problems throughout their life course. In particular, they are more likely to be aggressive, to use alcohol and other drugs, to be anxious and depressed, and to get divorced if they marry (Trickett, Noll, & Putnam, 2011). [55]



KEY TAKEAWAYS


  • The divorce rate rose for several reasons during the 1960s and 1970s but has generally leveled off since then.

  • Divorce often lowers the psychological well-being of spouses and their children, but the consequences of divorce also depend on the level of contention in the marriage that has ended.

  • Despite continuing controversy over the welfare of children whose mothers work outside the home, research indicates that children in high-quality day care fare better in cognitive development than those who stay at home.

  • Violence between intimates is fairly common and stems from gender inequality, income inequality, and several cultural myths that minimize the harm that intimate violence causes.

  • At least 800,000 children are abused or neglected each year in the United States. Because most abused children do not report the abuse, the number of cases of abuse and neglect is undoubtedly much higher.



FOR YOUR REVIEW


  1. Think of someone you know (either yourself, a relative, or a friend) whose parents are divorced. Write a brief essay in which you discuss how the divorce affected this person.

  2. Do you think it is ever acceptable for a spouse to slap or hit another spouse? Why or why not?

[1] Brown, S. L. (2005). How cohabitation is reshaping American families. Contexts, 4(3), 33–37.

[2] Jose, A., O’Leary, K. D., & Moyer, A. (2010). Does premarital cohabitation predict subsequent marital stability and marital quality? A meta-analysis. Journal of Marriage & Family, 72(1), 105–116.

[3] Brown, S. L. (2005). How cohabitation is reshaping American families. Contexts, 4(3), 33–37.

[4] Apel, R., & Kaukinen, C. (2008). On the relationship between family structure and antisocial behavior: Parental cohabitation and blended households. Criminology, 46(1), 35–70; Brown, S. L. (2005). How cohabitation is reshaping American families. Contexts, 4(3), 33–37.

[5] Brown, S. L., & Bulanda, J. R. (2008). Relationship violence in young adulthood: A comparison of daters, cohabitors, and marrieds. Social Science Research, 37(1), 73–87.

[6] Cherlin, A. J. (2009). The origins of the ambivalent acceptance of divorce. Journal of Marriage & Family, 71(2), 226–229.

[7] Teachman, J. (2008). Complex life course patterns and the risk of divorce in second marriages. Journal of Marriage & Family, 70(2), 294–305.

[8] Hiedemann, B., Suhomlinova, O., & O’Rand, A. M. (1998). Economic independence, economic status, and empty nest in midlife marital disruption. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 219–231.

[9] Cherlin, A. J. (2009). The origins of the ambivalent acceptance of divorce. Journal of Marriage & Family, 71(2), 226–229.

[10] Kneip, T., & Bauer, G. (2009). Did unilateral divorce laws raise divorce rates in Western Europe? Journal of Marriage & Family, 71(3), 592–607.

[11] Clarke-Stewart, A., & Brentano, C. (2006). Divorce: Causes and consequences. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; Wilcox, W. B. (Ed.). (2010). The state of our unions 2010: Marriage in America. Charlottesville, VA: National Marriage Project.

[12] Gadalla, T. M. (2008). Gender differences in poverty rates after marital dissolution: A longitudinal study. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 49(3/4), 225–238; Wilcox, W. B. (Ed.). (2010). The state of our unions 2010: Marriage in America. Charlottesville, VA: National Marriage Project.

[13] DeNavas-Walt, C., Proctor, B. D., & Smith, J. C. (2011). Income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the United States: 2010 (Current Population Reports, P60-239). Washington, DC: US Census Bureau.

[14] Cherlin, A. J. (2009). The origins of the ambivalent acceptance of divorce. Journal of Marriage & Family, 71(2), 226–229; Waite, L. J., Luo, Y., & Lewin, A. C. (2009). Marital happiness and marital stability: Consequences for psychological well-being. Social Science Research, 38(1), 201–212.

[15] Amato, P. R., & Hohmann-Marriott, B. (2007). A comparison of high- and low-distress marriages that end in divorce. Journal of Marriage & Family, 69(3), 621–638.

[16] Wilcox, W. B. (Ed.). (2010). The state of our unions 2010: Marriage in America. Charlottesville, VA: National Marriage Project.

[17] Demo, D. H., & Fine, M. A. (2010). Beyond the average divorce. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

[18] Moore, K. A., Kinghorn, A., & Bandy, T. (2011). Parental relationship quality and child outcomes across subgroups. Washington, DC: Child Trends.

[19] Hull, K. E., Meier, A., & Ortyl, T. (2012). The changing landscape of love and marriage. In D. Hartmann & C. Uggen (Eds.), The contexts reader (2nd ed., pp. 56–63). New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

[20] Li, J.-C. A. (2010). Briefing paper: The impact of divorce on children’s behavior problems. In B. J. Risman (Ed.), Families as they really are (pp. 173–177). New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

[21] Rutter, V. E. (2010). The case for divorce. In B. J. Risman (Ed.), Families as they really are(pp. 159–169). New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

[22] Booth, A., Scott, M. E., & King, V. (2010). Father residence and adolescent problem behavior: Are youth always better off in two-parent families? Journal of Family Issues, 31(5), 585–605.

[23] Booth, A., Scott, M. E., & King, V. (2010). Father residence and adolescent problem behavior: Are youth always better off in two-parent families? Journal of Family Issues, 31(5), 585–605.

[24] Bernard, J. (1972). The future of marriage. New York, NY: Bantam.

[25] Glenn, N. D. (1997). A Critique of twenty family and marriage and the family textbooks.Family Relations, 46, 197–208.

[26] Waite, L. J., Luo, Y., & Lewin, A. C. (2009). Marital happiness and marital stability: Consequences for psychological well-being. Social Science Research, 38(1), 201–212; Wilcox, W. B. (Ed.). (2010). The state of our unions 2010: Marriage in America. Charlottesville, VA: National Marriage Project.

[27] Theobald, D., & Farrington, D. P. (2011). Why do the crime-reducing effects of marriage vary with age? British Journal of Criminology, 51(1), 136–158.

[28] Frech, A., & Williams, K. (2007). Depression and the psychological benefits of entering marriage. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 48, 149–163.

[29] Parker-Pope, T. (2010, April 18). Is marriage good for your health? The New York Times Sunday Magazine, p. MM46.

[30] Morin, R. (2010). The public renders a split verdict on changes in family structure. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

[31] Schwartz, P. (1983). Length of day-care attendance and attachment behavior in eighteen-month-old infants. Child Development, 54, 1073–1078.

[32] Coontz, S. (1997). The way we really are: Coming to terms with America’s changing families. New York, NY: Basic Books.

[33] Rabin, R. C. (2008, September 15). A consensus about day care: Quality counts. New York Times, p. A1.

[34] Goodman, P. S. (2010, May 24). Cuts to child care subsidy thwart more job seekers.New York Times, p. A1.

[35] Wright, R. H., Jr., Mindel, C. H., Tran, T. V., & Habenstein, R. W. (Eds.). (2012). Ethnic families in America: Patterns and variations (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

[36] Patterson, O. (1998). Rituals of blood: Consequences of slavery in two American centuries. Washington, DC: Civitas/CounterPoint.

[37] Haskins, R. (2009). Moynihan was right: Now what? The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 621, 281–314.

[38] Willie, C. V., & Reddick, R. J. (2010). A new look at black families (6th ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

[39] Sampson, R. J. (2009). Racial stratification and the durable tangle of neighborhood inequality. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 621, 260–280.

[40] Truman, J. L. (2011). Criminal victimization, 2010. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

[41] Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (1998). Prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women: Findings from the national violence against women survey. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.

[42] Randall, M., & Haskell, L. (1995). Sexual violence in women’s lives: Findings from the Women’s Safety Project, a community-based survey. Violence Against Women, 1, 6–31.

[43] Johnson, M. P. (2006). Conflict and control: Gender symmetry and asymmetry in domestic violence. Violence Against Women, 12, 1003–1018.

[44] Martin, K., Vieraitis, L. M., & Britto, S. (2006). Gender equality and women’s absolute status: A test of the feminist models of rape. Violence Against Women, 12, 321–339.

[45] Gosselin, D. K. (2010). Heavy hands: An introduction to the crimes of family violence (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[46] Kim, J., & Gray, K. A. (2008). Leave or stay? Battered women’s decision after intimate partner violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23(10), 1465–1482.

[47] Llorente, E. (2009). Strengthening her sisters. Retrieved November 2, 2011, fromhttp://www.aarp.org/giving-back/volunteering/info-10-2009/strengthening_her_sisters.html.

[48] Administration on Children Youth and Families. (2010). Child maltreatment 2008. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services.

[49] Moore, D. W. (1994, May). One in seven Americans victim of child abuse. The Gallup Poll Monthly, 18–22.

[50] Garbarino, J. (1989). The incidence and prevalence of child maltreatment. In L. Ohlin & M. Tonry (Eds.), Family violence (Vol. 11, pp. 219–261). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

[51] Randall, M., & Haskell, L. (1995). Sexual violence in women’s lives: Findings from the Women’s Safety Project, a community-based survey. Violence Against Women, 1, 6–31.

[52] Berlin, L. J., Ispa, J. M., Fine, M. A., Malone, P. S., Brooks-Gunn, J., Brady-Smith, C., et al. (2009). Correlates and consequences of spanking and verbal punishment for low-income white, African American, and Mexican American toddlers. Child Development, 80(5), 1403–1420; Harder, B. (2007, February 19). Spanking: When parents lift their hands. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2007/feb/19/health/he-spanking19; Park, A. (2010). The long-term effects of spanking. Time International (Atlantic Edition), 175(18), 95–95; Regalado, M., Sareen, H., Inkelas, M., Wissow, L. S., & Halfon, N. (2004). Parents’ discipline of young children: Results from the national survey of early childhood health. Pediatrics, 113, 1952–1958.

[53] Gosselin, D. K. (2010). Heavy hands: An introduction to the crimes of family violence (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[54] Wauchope, B., & Straus, M. A. (1990). Physical punishment and physical abuse of American children: Incidence rates by age, gender, and occupational class. In M. A. Straus & R. J. Gelles (Eds.), Physical violence in American families: Risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families (pp. 133–148). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.

[55] Trickett, P. K., Noll, J. G., & Putnam, F. W. (2011). The impact of sexual abuse on female development: Lessons from a multigenerational, longitudinal research study. Development and Psychopathology, 23(2), 453–476.



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