About Abuse

Abuse is the use of power or control to manipulate or dominate another person.  Victims of abuse can be children, adults, the elderly, animals, racial groups, immigrants and anyone whose personal rights are violated.  Although there are different forms of abuse, there is usually a difference in power and the abuse is repeated and intentional.


Physical abuse is the use of force or threats of pain.  This can include punching, hitting, pushing, strangling, biting, burning, or any action to cause pain, discomfort or injury.  Often, batterers use coercion and intimidation as emotional manipulators.  They may threaten to commit suicide if the abuse is reported, or threaten to hurt someone the victim cares about.  They may flash a weapon or a frightening look in order to scare the victim into silence. Physical abuse can be spotted by looking for cuts, bruises, burns or other inconsistent medical problems.


Sexual abuse is a form of sexual contact between an adult and a child, non-consenting adult or between a significantly older child and a younger child.   Often, a gynecological exam is required to discover physical signs of sexual abuse.  If sexual abuse occurs between family members, it is called incest.  In a relationship, sexual abuse occurs when one partner assumes the right to exert force in order to have sex when their partner has refused.  It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that states started to recognize rape within a marriage.  However, today the law and society recognize that sexual contact should b a consensual act between to understanding partners.

Signs of sexual abuse include eating disorders, self mutilation, isolation and withdraw, excessive drug or alcohol use, hyper sexuality, suicide attempts and hiding of the physical appearance (in oversized shirts or loose fitting clothing).  Victims of sexual assault often feel severe shame and guilt around the abuse and don’t always want to report it for fear of public awareness.  It is important to respect the opinions of a victim of abuse while they are determining the course of action to take.


Emotional abuse (also referred to as Mental or Verbal abuse) is harder to recognize and often goes unreported and accepted.  When an adult goes too far and yells, degrades, name calls, or uses anger, threats or constant criticism to control a child,  self esteem is wounded and in grave cases development is thwarted.  In relationships, emotional abuse can look like making the person feel guilty or bad about themselves because of excessive bad mouthing.

Abusers often have issues with anger management and may explode in screaming matches uses horrible names and saying hurtful things.  Other times, the abuser may be more subtle and use situations to make the victim feel incompetent, useless and dependent.  The abuser may minimize or make light of the abuse and shift the blame to the victim.  If abuse is occurring in a family, the abuser may use the children to manipulate and control by threatening to hurt them, making the victim feel guilty or threatening to take them away.


Economic abuse is another way for a partner to control by preventing the person from getting a job or having any money, keeping them isolated and away from others opinions and making the person dependent on them for income.   Economic control is often a reason given for not leaving an abusive relationship.  The person may have nowhere to go and no money to start new on their own.  Many public agencies recognize the need for financial assistance while trying to break free from an abusive relationship and often significant support.


Neglect is when a caretaker does not provide the basic needs for a child.  This includes food, housing, clothing, medical care, safety, and educational opportunity.  Forms of neglect are often used as emotional abuse, for example, taking away food as punishment, refusing medical care, humiliation by forcing to wear old or ruined clothes.  Neglect can also occur with gross lack of supervision in allowing constant truancy, leaving young children alone without care, or leaving children in the care of an inappropriate caretakers (such as a drug user or another child).


Bullying occurs when someone intimidates, threatens or humiliates another child.  This includes physical, verbal, and emotional abuse as well as extortion and cyber bullying.  Physical bullying is more common among males, where emotional bullying is more common among females.  However, bullying can occur in any gender, any economic population and any school.  Most of the witnesses of bullying are other kids.  Rarely are adults around when the bullying occurs.  This means the witnesses or victims need to report the abuse in order for it to stop.


Cyber bullying involves using technology to intentional harm a person or a group.  As technology evolves, there are more weapons, including email, cell phones, texting, video messaging, instant messenger, bloging, websites, and more.  Pictures are posted of children in embarrassing situations; secrets are revealed through forwarded emails; public groups pick one child and post hurtful messages about them for all to read.  Recently, a teenage girl committed suicide over a cyber prank from a parent pretending to be a teenage boy.  This is a serious form of abuse facing teenagers.

There are many similarities between a childhood bully and an adult batterer.  Some studies have shown that battering habits begin in childhood and manifest in bullying.  Often bullies are victims of abuse themselves, however, there is never an excuse to hurt, demean or degrade someone else.  The abusers and the victims need help to recover from this cycle. 

If you suspect your child is bullying, please seek help for the child as soon as possible.  Without intervention, bullying can escalate into legal problems and adult disorders.  Talk with your pediatrician or a school counselor for a referral.  If you suspect your child is being bullied, ask them what is going on.  It is important to remain supportive and consider their opinions in appropriate action.  Seek assistance from a school counselor or teacher in addressing the problem.  Counseling, play therapy and assertiveness training are helpful options for treatment.


By Ashley Kuehne


972-774-9595 ~ 14114 Dallas Pkwy, Ste. 245 ~ Dallas, Texas 75254
Patty Germany, MEd, NCC, LPC, LMFT   |   Ashley Kuehne, LPC, LPC-S, LCDC, CAS   |   Dr. Cindy Seamans, PhD, LPC-S

Copyright © 2009 Center for Family Development

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