Child abuse is a dark and ominous phrase – with good reason. It is an insidious phenomenon that comes in many forms and has no cultural, economic, gender, or geographical boundaries. Child abuse victimizes those who are least equipped to protect themselves. In fact, often the abusers are supposed to be the child’s “protector.”
Child abuse cases are among the most difficult to deal with. Physical abuse often leaves the most obvious evidence. Bruises, burns, and even broken bones speak loudly and frequently leave a trail to the abuser. But more subtle forms of abuse often present dilemmas that are hard to address.
Psychological abuse can be very subtle, but its effects can be just as long lasting and
serious as physical abuse. Verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and a complete lack of parental love, affection, and emotional support can undermine a child’s selfconfidence and self-worth. Sometimes the abuser doesn’t even know he is abusing the child in this way. He may just be following patterns of behavior he grew up with. Getting him to recognize the problem and change his behavior can be extremely challenging.
Concerns about sexual abuse or inappropriate sexual contact are often unaccompanied by physical evidence of abuse. Did it happen or didn’t it? And what if the child is so young that he can’t express himself in a way that alleviates ambiguity? How does a parent interpret a young child’s statement that can be innocent and innocuous on one
hand, but alarming and damning on the other? Does the parent who heard it make an accusation, perhaps fueling a major legal conflagration, or does she wait and see, potentially subjecting the child to further harm? These are not easy questions to answer.
And, what about the accused parent’s response that it is all made up to gain an advantage in the divorce or custody case? Sadly, that does happen and, in itself, constitutes a form of child abuse.
These are among the most difficult issues family lawyers and judges are called upon to resolve. There are no easy answers. Proceeding with caution, diligence, and professionalism is a must.