Child Abuse’s Lingering Trauma

According to the National Children’s Alliance over 700,000 children are abused every year in the US. Just over 1,500 children die due to neglect and abuse every year, and Children’s Advocacy Centers serve over 300,000 child abuse victims across the country.

ptsd2Reports from 47 states show that almost 3 million children are being protected by Child Protective Services, and the highest rates of victimization are children in their first year of life. The most common form of maltreatment is neglect, with 80% suffering neglect, while 18% have been subjected to physical abuse, and 9% have suffered sexual abuse. Some children suffer more than one type of maltreatment. In 78% of the substantiated child maltreatment cases the perpetrator was the parent of the victim.

Child Abuse Defined

The American Health Association has defined physical abuse as physical injury caused by burning, punching, biting, beating, or kicking or non-accidental trauma. It’s challenging to draw the line between corporal punishment and child abuse. When does physical discipline cross the line into becoming potentially traumatizing abusive behavior. In some cases, child abusers are oblivious to the fact that their behavior is harmful.
Any form of child abuse is an exploitation of a child’s dependence.

Abused Children

What happens to them after they are subjected to abuse? It depends on how many reports are made, how severe the abuse has been, and the community resources that are available. Parents may have their rights terminated, and the children may end up in the foster system. It’s possible that they are then subjected to further abuse. In some cases, the children are reunited with their parents- though, this is rare.

From Child Abuse to PTSD

It’s a complex process for adult survivors to get to the room of their childhood traumas. How does abuse during childhood turn into PTSD? Women are more likely to develop PTSD as a result of childhood abuse. Other factors include:
• The child’s developmental state – very young children may not understand the traumatic situation, leaving them at less risk of PTSD.
• The degree of personal threat.
• The relationship between perpetrator and victim.
• The short-term response of the child to the abuse.
• Resilience.
• The level of support offered to the victim.
• Guilt.

Trauma is a result of a stressful event that exceeds a person’s ability to cope. A child victim should not have to cope, when abuse occurs they are not equipped to process or handle it. The adult(s) in their lives should provide them with a safe environment, and love.
Some of the symptoms related to child PTSD include:
• Nightmares
• A fear of dying
• Memories of the traumatic event
• Emotional or physical symptoms when the child is reminded of the event
• Increased alertness in their environment
• Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
• Difficulty sleeping
• Difficulty concentrating
• Headaches and stomachaches
• Extreme reactions
• Irritability, violence, and anger
• Clingy behavior

As the child ages, the PTSD symptoms may become subtler as they learn to cope with the trauma. PTSD symptoms mimic other disorders, such as eating disorders, anxiety, alcohol and drug problems, depression, insomnia, and hypervigilance.

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