Domestic Violence

Child Maltreatment

The World Health Organization (2016) defines child maltreatment as a behavior beyond the norms of conduct subjected to a child and may involve the risk of causing emotional or physical harm. It encompasses all forms of emotional/psychological abuse, neglect, physical, and sexual abuse as elaborated by Gosselin (2013). Consequently, although there are several subcategories of child abuse, a majority of the states in the United States recognize these four primary categories. 

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Categories of Child Maltreatment

Emotional/ Psychological Abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse in child maltreatment is defined as an injury caused to the emotional stability and psychological capacity of a child as demonstrated in observed behavior change, cognitive change such as withdrawal or aggressive behavior, or emotional distress. A child subjected to emotional/psychological abuse experiences a pattern of behavior that affects the psychological or emotional well-being of a child. While emotional/psychological abuse may not be considered criminal behavior, it is reprehensible, sometimes demanding therapeutic or social intervention. However, emotional abuse may be considered criminal when it is in its extreme form such as the use of restrictive methods to restrict a child in confinement in a truck or closet for longer periods. Additionally, emotional/psychological abuse can be perpetrated indirectly such as witnessing family violence. When children are exposed to extreme rates of family violence at home, they are exposed to a greater risk of physical abuse, emotional, and psychological abuse. Notably, family violence perpetrated in the presence of a child is considered a misdemeanor offense in the United States, despite evidence indicating its harm to children.


Neglect encompasses the concept of parents abandoning their duties or obligations to provide children with basic needs because they are also unable to do the same for themselves. In particular, child neglect is usually defined as a parent’s failure to provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and ensuring the health and safety of the child. Among the four forms of child maltreatment, neglect is the most common form of child abuse with statistics showing that in 2011 at least 78 percent of children were subjected to neglect by their parents or caregivers. Under neglect, there are four subcategories, which include emotional/psychological, medical, educational, and physical neglect.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is defined as any intentional physical injury inflicted to a child. Child physical abuse can be in the form of kicking, burning, biting, stabbing, or striking a child. Child physical abuse encompasses any cultural practices that may leave some bruises or marks on a child that mimic child abuse. Some cultural practices that are considered physical abuse include coining, cupping, and moxibustion.

Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse encompasses the use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of a child to engage in sexually explicit conduct. Sexual abuse also involves rape, especially from family members or caretakers expected to take care of children. Additionally, according to Gosselin (2013), sexual abuse involves a wide range of behaviors such as anal, oral, genital penile penetration or no penetration, indecent exposure, exposing children to child prostitution, pornography, and other sexually exploitative acts.


Gosselin, D. K. (2013). Heavy hands: An introduction to the crime of intimate and family violence. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

World Health Organization. (2016). Child maltreatment. Retrieved from

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