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Child Abuse Leaves Deep Scars and Gives Rise to Adverse Health Issues

Research suggests child abuse leaves deep scars and gives rise to issues including substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Researchers are now revealing what happens in the brain of child abuse victims.  Cognitive processes — including reasoning, learning, remembering, perception, comprehension, and attention to detail — are critically weakened in adults who went through ruthless and relentless abuse as children.child abuse research

Child Abuse Victims

It has already been determined that people who were abused during childhood are more exposed to anxiety, clinical depression, and a higher risk of death from suicide.

However, a team of researchers from the McGill Group for Suicide Studies at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University in Montreal, Canada, are in the midst of deciphering how a history of abuse affects key brain mechanisms, affecting mental health.

Dr. Pierre-Eric Lutz and his colleagues note that adults who went through ruthless and relentless child abuse as children have difficult challenges relating to emotions, attention, and other cognitive process.

Definition of Child Neglect and Abuse

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) retained the present definition of child abuse and neglect:

Any recent act, or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents an looming risk of serious harm.

Most states in the U.S. recognize four major types of maltreatment: neglect, physical abuse, psychological maltreatment, and sexual abuse. Although any of the forms of child abuse or maltreatment may be found separately — they can occur in combination.

Children in their first year of life had the highest rate of victimization at 24.2 per 1,000 children of the same age in the U.S. population.

  • The majority of victims consisted of three races or ethnicities — White (43.2 percent), Hispanic (23.6 percent), and African-American (21.4 percent).
  • More than 90 percent of victims were found to be victims in one report, and fewer than seven percent of victims were found to be victims in more than one report.

Child Fatalities

Child fatalities are the most tragic consequence of maltreatment. For example, in 2015, 49 states reported 1,585 deaths. An estimated 1,670 children died from abuse and neglect.

  • The national rate of child fatalities was 2.25 deaths per 100,000 children.
  • Nearly three-quarters of all child fatalities were younger than 3 years old.
  • Boys had a higher child fatality rate than girls at 2.42 boys per 100,000 boys in the population. Girls had a child fatality rate of 2.09 per 100,000 girls in the population.
  • Almost 90 percent of child fatalities were comprised of White (42.3 percent), African-American (30.6 percent), and Hispanic (14.5 percent) victims.
  • Four-fifths of child fatalities involved at least one parent. Children in their first year of life had the highest rate of victimization at 24.2 per 1,000 children of the same age in the national population.

According to data provided by the Children’s Bureau of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there was a 3.8 percent increase in reported child abuse cases in the United States between 2011 and 2015. This amounts to 683,000 cases of child abuse in 2015 alone in the U.S.

Who Abused and Neglected Children?

A perpetrator is the person who is responsible for the abuse or neglect of a child. Fifty-one states reported 522,476 perpetrators.

According to case-level data:

  • More than four-fifths of perpetrators were between the ages of 18 and 44 years.
  • More than one-half of perpetrators were women, 45.0 percent of perpetrators were men, and 0.9 percent were of unknown sex.
  • The three largest percentages of perpetrators were White (48.7 percent), African-American (20.0 percent), or Hispanic (19.5 percent).
  • Fewer than 8 percent of perpetrators were involved in more than one report.
  • More than three-fifths of perpetrators maltreated one victim, more than one-fifth maltreated two victims, and the remaining 17 percent maltreated three or more victims.

Child abuse has devastating and long-lasting consequences.  Victims of child abuse have a considerably increasing lifetime risk of negative mental health outcomes — like suicide and depression. Until now, the neurobiological processes that underlie this increased vulnerability remain poorly understood. Researchers recently investigated the theory that cognitive and behavioral brain functions are impaired in child abuse victims.

Perhaps more people will discover knowledge and awareness — and find understanding and patience — when relating with the myriad of child abuse victims who have difficulty in comprehension, attention to detail, reasoning, learning, memory, perception, and controlling of his or her emotions.


The researchers’ recent article titled, “Association of a History of Child Abuse with Impaired Myelination in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex: Convergent Epigenetic, Transcriptional, and Morphological Evidence,” is published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.


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