12 Long And Short-Term Effects Of Child Abuse
Updated August 27, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Tonia Cassaday
Child abuse and neglect are serious health problems that can have detrimental long-term and short-term effects on victims. Child abuse includes all types of abuse and neglect toward individuals under the age of 18 by a caregiver or adult in a mentorship role. This can include sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect.
Unfortunately, victims of child abuse may also face a greater risk of becoming abusers themselves later in life. That’s why it is important to recognize the effects of child abuse and to report signs of abuse and neglect whenever you see them.
Child Abuse And Neglect: 6 Long-Term Effects
Physical, psychological, and behavioral consequences are the three main long-term effects many child abuse victims suffer from. Even years after the abuse ends, victims can still find themselves dealing with the long-term effects of the physical, emotional, or sexual abuse they faced. This impact can even span generations if the victim is unable to seek treatment and prevent the cycle from repeating with their own children.
1. Physical Health Problems
While some long-term effects of child abuse occur instantly, such as brain damage from head trauma, others can take months or years to become detectable. Child abuse victims face a higher risk for a variety of long-term or future physical health problems, including:
- High Blood Pressure
- Bowel Disease
- Heart Disease
- Lung Problems
Victims of child abuse and neglect are also at risk for stunted or improper brain development. Regions of the brain, including the amygdala, which plays a large part in processing emotions, and the hippocampus, which is critical for learning and memory, are negatively affected by child abuse and neglect. However, with the help of treatment and intervention, it is possible to help these areas of the brain recover.
2. Substance Abuse
Children with parents who struggle with substance abuse face a greater risk of experiencing abuse or neglect. It also increases their risk of turning to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism for themselves when they grow older. One long-term study that followed child abuse victims until they reached 24 found that suffering from physical abuse during the first five years of life is strongly linked to developing substance abuse later in life.
Unfortunately, victims of child abuse and neglect are more likely to become abusive to their own children. Seeking treatment for substance abuse is imperative to breaking this cycle of abuse and neglect.
3. Juvenile Delinquency And Criminal Acts
According to research funded by the National Institute of Justice, victims of child abuse and neglect are more likely to develop antisocial behaviors and associate with others that display these antisocial tendencies. Several other studies also found evidence supporting the information researchers funded by the National Institute of Justice uncovered.
The study also found that child abuse and neglect affected males and females differently. Females tended to internalize their behaviors, resulting in anxiety or social withdrawal. Males, on the other hand, displayed externalizing behaviors such as bullying or aggression. This behavior followed them into adulthood.
4. Psychological And Behavioral Issues
Experiencing child abuse and neglect is also a risk factor for developing psychiatric disorders such as:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Anorexia or Bulimia
- Behavioral Disorders
Research on childhood trauma and its effect on the brain suggests that stunted or impaired brain development from abuse may play a part in leaving victims vulnerable to these disorders. One study also found that adults with major depression who were also victims of child abuse and neglect responded less effectively to antidepressant treatments. Some studies also found that victims of sexual abuse were more likely to become obese when they grew older.
While experiencing child abuse and neglect does increase your chances of experiencing these issues, that does not mean that you are destined to struggle with them for the rest of your life.
5. Impaired Cognitive Skills And Executive Functioning
Child abuse and neglect can disrupt brain development, resulting in an impairment of the brain’s executive functions. These functions include working memory, self-awareness, planning, and problem-solving. This damage can result in:
- Learning Disabilities
- Poor Grades
- A Higher Chance of Dropping Out of School
These unfortunate short-term effects can have a drastic impact on a child’s future education and career prospects.
6. Direct And Indirect Costs To Society
Abuse and neglect have far-reaching consequences that do not stop at the victim. Society, as a whole, also suffers from the effects of long-term child abuse.
In 2015, the Center for Disease Control found that the total lifetime economic burden of child abuse and neglect added up to $428 billion. Direct costs, such as hospitalizations and foster care payments, and indirect costs such as long-term care, factored into this total.
Child Abuse And Neglect: 6 Short-Term Effects
Depending on their age, children who experience abuse and neglect can respond to it in a variety of different manners. Preschool-aged children or toddlers may start bed-wetting and displaying signs of severe anxiety. Elementary school kids might have low grades or very few friends. Some teenagers experiment with drugs and alcohol or fight with their family members.
1. Depression And Anxiety
Teenage girls have a higher chance of developing depression and anxiety from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. However, a child of any gender or age can experience depression and anxiety as a result of abuse. Feelings of guilt and anger are also common among adolescents.
2. Altered Sleep Cycle
Child abuse victims may also suffer from an altered sleep cycle. Nightmares, sleep disturbances, and hypervigilance can contribute to their sleep problems. These symptoms typically occur in preschoolers.
3. Regressive Behavior
Regressive behavior occurs when a child regresses to an earlier developmental stage emotionally, socially, or behaviorally. Wanting a bottle or pacifier after they have already been weaned off them is one example of regressive behavior. Age regression can occur to people at any age. Children around three to four years of age may also show regressive behavior after witnessing domestic violence.
4. Separation Anxiety Disorder
Preschool-aged children may develop a separation anxiety disorder as a result of abuse and neglect. Symptoms for this disorder include constantly shadowing a caretaker around the house as well as stomach aches and dizziness in anticipation of separation.
5. Low Self-Esteem
Victims of child abuse often develop low self-worth. They may internalize the abuse and believe they caused or deserve it. These feelings of incompetence and shame can carry into adulthood and become long-term effects of child abuse.
6. Engagement In Risky Behaviors
Teenagers may start to engage in unsafe sex or start abusing drugs and alcohol as a result of abuse or neglect. They may also start fights in school or bully others, though this behavior is observed more in boys than girls.
Possible Signs Of Child Abuse
Many victims of child abuse are afraid to tell someone about it. This may stem from shame or confusion. It could also occur if the abuser is a parent or trusted adult. That’s why it is important to remain aware and alert for signs of child abuse in anyone under your care.
Common red flags of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect include:
- Unexplained injuries
- Sexual behavior or knowledge that is inappropriate for their age
- Low attendance in school
- Poor hygiene
You may also notice disturbing behavior from the children’s parents when they are around. This can include verbal abuse, a lack of concern for their children’s wellbeing, and severe physical abuse. While child health experts condemn the use of any kind of violence, some people still enforce corporal punishment to discipline their children. Even if the punishment is done to discipline the child, it could still be considered abuse.
Types Of Child Abuse
Child abuse takes many forms. Some of them may even occur at the same time.
- Physical Abuse: Hitting, punching, and choking are several examples of physical abuse. Anything that puts a child in harm’s way or that is meant to physically injure them is considered physical abuse.
- Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse includes any sexual activity with a child.
- Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse, such as verbal assault or ignoring a child, negatively affects their self-esteem and emotional well-being.
- Neglect: Failing to provide adequate food, shelter, supervision, education, and health care is considered child neglect.
How To Prevent Child Abuse And Neglect
Physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse can all be prevented. As a parent, you can ensure your child is always nurtured and looked after. As a friend or a relative, you can help babysit or look after their kids.
You can also get involved in the local community by developing parenting resources at the local library, asking leaders to create services to meet the needs of different families, and volunteering at child abuse prevention programs.
How To Seek Help
If you believe a child has been abused, you must seek help for them immediately. You can contact the child’s doctor, the local police department, or the 24-hour Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453. The national child abuse hotline can give you information on support resources, emergency services, and social assistance. If the child needs immediate attention, call 911.
If you or someone you love has experienced child abuse, it is not too late to seek help. Talk to your doctor about the various therapy and treatment options that are available to you.
Online therapy is a great resource for seeking help from the comfort of your own home. The licensed mental health professionals at BetterHelp can help you work through the long-term effects of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse experienced during childhood.
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