finger was so swollen that she couldn't get her
ring off. She didn't think her finger was broken
because she could still bend it. It had been a
week since her dad had grabbed her hand and then
shoved her into the wall, but her finger still
hurt a lot. She was so embarrassed that she didn't
tell anyone. Amy hated the way her dad called
her lots of names - and accused her of all sorts
of things she didn't do - especially after he
had been drinking. It made her feel awful. She
wished he would stop, but didn't feel very hopeful
that anything would change.
What Is Abuse?
Abuse in families can take many forms. It may
be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, or a combination
of any or all of those. Neglect - when parents
don't take care of the basic needs of the children
who depend on them - can be a form of abuse.
Family violence can affect anyone, regardless
of religion, color, or social standing. It happens
in both wealthy and poor families and in single-parent
or two-parent households. Sometimes parents abuse
each other, which can be hard for a child to witness.
Some parents abuse their children by using physical
or verbal cruelty as a way of discipline. Both
girls and guys can experience abusive physical
punishment by a parent - but male children are
beaten more often than female children.
Physical abuse is often the most obvious form
of abuse. It may be any kind of hitting, shaking,
burning, pinching, biting, choking, throwing,
whipping, paddling, beating, and other actions
that cause physical injury, leave marks, or produce
significant physical pain.
Sexual abuse is any type of sexual contact between
an adult and child or between a significantly
older child and a younger child. If a person is
abused by a member of his or her immediate family,
this is called incest.
Emotional abuse can be difficult to pin down because
there are no physical signs to look for. Sure,
people yell at each other, express anger, and
call each other names sometimes, and expressing
anger can sometimes be healthy. But emotional
abuse generally occurs when the yelling and anger
go too far or when a parent constantly belittles,
threatens, or dismisses a child until the child's
self-esteem and feelings of self-worth are damaged.
And just like physical abuse can cause physical
scars, emotional abuse can bring about emotional
Neglect is probably the hardest type of abuse
to define. Neglect occurs when a child doesn't
have adequate food, housing, clothes, medical
care, or supervision. Emotional neglect happens
when a parent doesn't provide enough emotional
support or deliberately and consistently pays
very little or no attention to a child. But it's
not neglect if a parent doesn't give a kid something
he or she wants, like a new computer or a cell
Abuse doesn't just happen in families, of course.
Bullying is a form of abusive behavior that may
happen in a peer group - among people of any age.
Bullying someone by intimidation, threats, or
humiliation can be just as abusive as beating
someone up. People who bully others have often
been abused themselves. This is also true of people
who abuse someone they're dating. But being abused
is still no excuse for abusing someone else.
Abuse can also take the form of hate crimes directed
at people just because of their race, religion,
abilities, gender, or sexual orientation.
It may sound strange, but people sometimes have
trouble recognizing that they are being abused.
For example, Amy has been abused but she doesn't
think of it that way. Recognizing abuse may be
especially difficult for someone who has lived
with it for many years. A person might think that
it's just the way things are and that there's
nothing that can be done about it. People who
are abused might mistakenly think they bring it
on themselves by misbehaving or by not living
up to someone's expectations.
Someone growing up in a violent or abusive family
may not know that there are other ways for family
members to treat each other. A person who has
only known an abusive relationship may mistakenly
think that hitting, beating, pushing, shoving,
or angry name-calling are perfectly normal ways
to treat someone when you're mad. Seeing parents
treat each other in abusive ways may lead a child
to think that's a normal relationship. It's important
for people who grow up with abuse to know that
it is not a normal, or healthy, or acceptable
way to treat people.
Why Does It Happen?
There is no one reason why people abuse others,
although there are some factors that seem to make
it more likely that a person may become abusive.
Growing up in an abusive family, for example,
can teach someone that abuse is a way of life.
Fortunately, though, many people who grow up in
abusive families realize that abuse is not acceptable
and are able to break patterns of abuse.
Some people become abusive because they are not
able to manage their feelings properly. For example,
people who are unable to control their anger or
people who can't cope with stressful personal
situations (like the loss of a job or marital
problems) may lash out at others inappropriately.
Certain types of personality disorders or mental
illness can also interfere with a person's ability
to relate to others in healthy ways or cause people
to have problems with aggression or self-control.
Of course, not everyone with a personality disorder
or mental illness becomes abusive.
Substance abuse, such as alcoholism or drug use,
can also play a role in abuse by making it difficult
for the abuser to control his or her actions.
Of course, just because someone may have a problem,
it doesn't automatically mean that person will
become abusive. If you're one of the thousands
of people living in an abusive situation, though,
it can help to understand why some people abuse
- and to realize that violence is all about the
person doing it, not the fault of the person being
Even if someone close to you has behavioral or
other problems that cause him or her to abuse
others, these don't make the abuse acceptable,
normal, or excusable. Abuse can always be corrected,
and everyone can learn how to stop.
What Are the Effects of Abuse?
If someone is abused, it can affect every aspect
of that person's life, especially self-esteem.
How much abuse damages a person depends on the
circumstances surrounding the abuse, how often
and how long the abuse occurs, the age of the
person who was abused, and lots of other factors.
Of course, every family has arguments. In fact,
it's rare when a family doesn't have some rough
times, disagreements, and anger. Punishments and
discipline - like removing privileges, grounding,
or being sent to your room - are normal in most
families. It becomes a problem, though, when the
punishment is physically or emotionally damaging.
That's called abuse.
Abused teens often have trouble sleeping, eating,
and concentrating. They may perform poorly at
school because they are angry or frightened or
because they don't care or can't concentrate.
Many people who are abused distrust others. They
may feel a lot of anger toward other people and
themselves, and it can be hard to make friends.
Some abused teens become depressed. Some may engage
in self-destructive behavior, such as cutting
or abusing drugs or alcohol. They may even attempt
It's normal for people who have been abused by
the people they love to not only feel upset but
also confused about what happened to them. They
may feel guilty and embarrassed and blame themselves,
especially if the abuse is sexual. But abuse is
never the fault of the person who is being abused,
no matter how much the abuser tries to blame it
Abusers often try to manipulate the people they're
abusing into either thinking the abuse is their
fault or to keep the abuse quiet. An abuser might
say things like: "This is a secret between
you and me," or "If you ever tell anybody,
I'll hurt you or your mom," or "You're
going to get in trouble if you tell. No one will
believe you and you'll go to jail for lying."
This is the abuser's way of making a person feel
like nothing can be done so that he or she won't
take any action to stop or report the abuse.
People who are abused may have trouble getting
help because it means they'd be reporting on someone
they love - someone who may be wonderful much
of the time and awful to them only some of the
time. So abuse often goes unreported.
What Should Someone Who's Being Abused Do?
People who are being abused need to get help.
Keeping the abuse a secret doesn't protect a person
from being abused - it only makes it more likely
that the abuse will continue.
If you or anyone you know is being abused, talk
to someone you or your friend can trust - a family
member, a friend, a trusted teacher, a doctor,
or an adult who works with youth at school or
in a place of worship. Many teachers and counselors,
for instance, have training in how to recognize
and report abuse.
Telephone directories list local child abuse and
family violence hotline numbers that you can call
for help. There's also Childhelp USA at (800)
4-A-CHILD ( 422-4453).
Sometimes people who are being abused by someone
in their own home need to find a safe place to
live temporarily. It is never easy to have to
leave home, but it's sometimes necessary to be
protected from further abuse. People who need
to leave home to stay safe can find local shelters
listed in the phone book or they can contact an
abuse helpline. Sometimes a person can stay with
a relative or friend.
People who are experiencing abuse often feel weird
or alone. But they're not. No one deserves to
be abused. Getting help and support is an important
first step to change the situation. Many teens
who have experienced abuse find that painful emotions
may linger even after the abuse stops. Working
with a therapist is one way for a person to sort
through the complicated feelings and reactions
that being abused creates, and the process can
help to rebuild feelings of safety, confidence,
to The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic