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What Constitutes Child Abuse?

Child abuse includes emotional and corporal injuries, sexual abuse, exploitation, and neglect. It encompasses both actions and inaction on the part of the responsible person. The legal age of a child varies from state to state, but is generally either under 16 or under 18. Child abuse can result in criminal prosecution as well as civil penalties.

Physical Abuse
Generally, spanking that is reasonable and age appropriate and does not expose the child to risk or serious injury, is not considered an abuse in the United States; however it is in 11 European countries.

If discipline is excessive and forceful enough to cause injury on a child, physical abuse has occurred. The use of instruments increases the likelihood of injuries. Physical abuse can include:

  • Hitting a child with a belt, whip or paddle
  • Pinching a child hard enough to leave a mark
  • Pushing a child into walls or knocking them to the floor
  • Shaking a child (under age 4) vigorously enough by the arms, legs, chest or shoulders to cause shaken baby syndrome

Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that affects a child's emotional development and sense of self-worth. It can include:

  • Excessive, aggressive, or unreasonable demands that place expectations on the child beyond their capacity
  • Constant criticizing, belittling, insulting, rejecting and teasing
  • Rejecting, isolating, terrorizing, ignoring, or corrupting of the child

Neglect is a failure to provide for a child's basic needs. It can include:

  • Failure to provide necessary food and shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision
  • Failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment
  • Failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs
  • Inattention to a child's emotional needs
  • Permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs

Being Accused of Child Abuse?

Criminal Proceedings: If you are accused of child abuse, you may be arrested and convicted. Consequences are dependent upon the severity of the abuse, any prior similar convictions, whether you are currently on probation or parole, and the number of instances of child abuse. Those convicted face:

  • Imprisonment
  • Probation or parole
  • Loss of custody or visitation with your children
  • The crime appearing on your record for life
  • Required anger management and/or parenting classes

Civil Proceedings: You can also be held civilly liable to the victim in a private lawsuit, if this happens then you may be liable to pay the victim money based on:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Prior similar convictions
  • Medical expenses

What Can You Do if You are Accused of Child Abuse?

If you are accused of child abuse, you should speak to a lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights, your defenses and the complicated legal system.

Victims of Child Abuse

If you are a victim of child abuse, you should call the police. If there is sufficient evidence, the police will then forward your case to the District Attorney's office to prosecute the person who committed the child abuse against you.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 09-30-2016 03:08 PM PDT

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