Emotional abuse of children can be just as harmful as physical abuse, a new study finds.
Emotional abuse includes behaviours like intimidation, humiliation and rejection.
Around one-third of children around the world suffer emotional abuse, which is far more common than physical abuse.
Professor David Vachon, the study’s first author, said:
“…although people assume physical abuse is more harmful than other types of abuse, we found that they are associated with similar consequences.
These consequences are wide-ranging and include everything from anxiety and depression to rule-breaking and aggression.”
The researchers studied 2,300 children who attended a summer camp over 20 years.
The children were from low-income families and aged between 5 and 13-years-old.
The results overturned some common assumptions, Professor Vachon explained:
“We also tested other assumptions about child maltreatment, including the belief that each type of abuse has specific consequences, and the belief that the abuse has different consequences for boys and girls of different races.
We found that these assumptions might also be wrong.
In fact, it seems as though different types of child abuse have equivalent, broad, and universal effects.”
The research should help change how people think about child abuse, Professor Vachon said:
“One implication, is that effective treatments for maltreatment of any sort are likely to have comprehensive benefits.
Another implication is that prevention strategies should emphasize emotional abuse, a widespread cruelty that is far less punishable than other types of child maltreatment.
One plan is to examine the way abuse changes personality itself — does it change who we are?
The point is to go beyond symptoms and ask whether abuse changes the way we tend to think, feel, and act.”
The study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry (Vachon et al., 2015).
Image credit: Vale