When Does Disciplining my Child Equal Child Abuse?

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 What Constitutes Child Abuse?

Child abuse can take many forms, resulting in criminal prosecution and civil penalties. Common forms of child abuse include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect. Any neglectful act that results in a child’s death or any exploitation of a child constitutes child abuse.

What Is Physical Child Abuse?

A child is being physically abused when they are:

  • Hit with a belt or paddle (spanking is typically not against the law)
  • Pinched hard enough to leave a mark that doesn’t go right away
  • Burned (for instance, with cigarettes, a lighter, iron, or the stovetop burner)
  • Bitten forcefully enough to leave a mark or break the skin
  • Pushed into walls or knocked to the floor, choked, kicked, or punched

What Is Sexual Child Abuse?

A child is being sexually abused when a person:

  • Improperly touches the child’s private parts
  • Shows a child inappropriate naked photos
  • Takes photos of the child without their clothes on
  • Entices the child with the intent of sexually abusing the child

What Is Emotional Child Abuse?

A child is being emotionally abused when the caretaker:

  • Calls the child mean names
  • Tells the child that they are useless, stupid, or “a mistake”Tells the child that they are never good enough or can’t do anything right
  • Tells the child they wish the child had never been born

What Is Neglect of a Child?

A child is neglected when the caretaker leaves the child:

  • Hungry much of the time without enough food or water
  • Without medicine or medical care
  • Without warm clothes in winter or cooler clothes in summer
  • Home alone when the child is too young to take care of themself safely
  • Locked in a room for hours or even days at a time

What Is Child Endangerment?

The term “child endangerment” refers to a criminal act when a person subjects a minor child to a dangerous situation. The child is likely to experience severe harm or even death. The crime of child endangerment is often charged in connection with other crimes, such as assault, illegal drug use, or driving under the influence (“DUI”).

A person does not necessarily need to be the child’s parent to be charged with child endangerment. A person may face child endangerment charges when they have assumed responsibility for the well-being and to look after a child but fail to live up to this duty by intentionally or knowingly placing the child in harm’s way. In general, many types of activities may qualify as a form of child endangerment.

In addition, the laws and resulting punishment for being convicted on child endangerment charges will differ from state to state. However, regardless of where a person is charged, child endangerment is considered a grave offense. Depending on the activity and the laws of the jurisdiction where the action happened, child endangerment may be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony offense.

A prison or jail sentence can vary from a few months to several years. As with other crimes, the facts and circumstances surrounding a particular case will need to be evaluated. Therefore, the more harm done to the child, and the more extreme the facts of a specific case, the more likely a convicted defendant will receive a more drastic punishment.

This general principle is especially true in cases where a court determines that the risk to a minor child is current or still ongoing. In cases where a minor child’s parents are convicted of child endangerment, the parents may stand to lose the parental rights they have over their child and the other penalties discussed.

What Are The Difference Between Child Discipline and Child Abuse?

There has been a massive controversy between what is defined as child discipline and child abuse. Many individuals do not comprehend the difference between the two and face criminal charges of child abuse when disciplining their children. Adults who go beyond proper and adequate discipline are considered child abusers and may face criminal charges.

Child abuse is when an individual harms a child physically, sexually, and emotionally. This abuse is behavior by a parent who either beats, spanks, hits a child, or does an act that emotionally tortures or harms the child.

What Is Legally Not Acceptable Discipline For My Child?

The actions that are legally not acceptable when disciplining a child are:

  • Physical abuse that is non-accidental and intentional
  • Sexual abuse of any kind between adults and child
  • Neglect: failure to provide for the child’s physical needs
  • Torturing the child in any way that is unusual and criminal
  • Emotional Abuse: any behavior or act that interferes with the child’s mental or social development

What Is Legally Acceptable Discipline For My Child?

Most states recognize that a parent has the right to control or scold a delinquent minor with reasonable punishment. To show any punishment was acceptable, you must show that:

  1. You are a parent, guardian, or a person entrusted with similar responsibilities to the child,
  2. The force you use is required to correct some unruly behavior in the pursuit of looking out for the child’s best interest, and
  3. The force will not cause a risk of death, significant bodily injury, disfigurement, extreme pain, or mental distress.

What Level of Discipline Is Not Acceptable For My Child?

Any discipline that harms the child physically, sexually, or emotionally would not be considered acceptable, and a person may face child abuse charges. Any discipline that violates one of the steps above will typically be seen as inappropriate punishment. As a result, courts will typically treat the discipline as:

What If I Have Been Accused of Child Abuse?

A child’s age in a child abuse case can be a factor in the type of punishment you can get in a child abuse case. The severity of the child abuse would also be another factor in the sentence you can get in a child abuse case. You can be arrested and convicted of the crime of child abuse. Criminal consequences for child abusers include:

  • Imprisonment
  • Probation or parole
  • Loss of custody or visitation with your children
  • It could be on your record for life
  • Anger management or parenting classes

The likelihood of any of the above consequences depends on:

  • The harshness of the child abuse
  • Comparable earlier convictions
  • Whether you are presently on probation or parole
  • The number of instances of child abuse

Can I Be Held Civilly Liable for Child Abuse?

You can also be held civilly liable to the victim in a private lawsuit. You may be liable to pay the victim money for their:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Direct out-of-pocket medical expenses

What Are the Consequences If a Court Finds That My Discipline Was Unacceptable?

If a court finds your level of discipline inappropriate and defines it as child abuse, endangerment, or assault or battery, you have typically committed a felony and could face:

  • Jail time, ranging from 2 to 15 years,
  • Fines,
  • Negative effects on child custody and other rights
  • Child endangerment charges
  • Loss of Custody of Child

Do I Need an Attorney If I Have Been Charged with Improperly Disciplining My Child?

Suppose you are charged with child abuse, child neglect, child endangerment, or assault or battery of your child, and you think what you did was acceptable discipline. In that circumstance, it is strongly recommended that you contact a criminal lawyer to help explain the situation and protect your rights.


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