Abuse in Childhood


Traditional definitions of incest have tended to focus on sexual relations between biologically related individuals. An increase in step-families has made it clear that sexual relations between non-genetically related persons is also a problem. For example: “stepdaughters are over eight times more at risk of sexual abuse by the stepfathers who reared them than are daughters reared by their biological fathers.”1 It has been suggested that there is a class of pedophiles who marry divorced or single women with families as a way of getting close to children.2

All of this has resulted in a more generalized focus to the meaning of incest. For example it has been defined as “the imposition of sexually inappropriate acts, or acts with sexual overtones … by one or more persons who derive authority through ongoing emotional bonding with that child.”3 Note the focus on ’emotionally bonded authorities’ rather than on biological relations.

Incest is very common. The prohibition of marriage between family members (‘incest taboo’) is almost universal. But marriage is about a particular kind of social relationship — not about sex relations. See4

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

An estimated 2 million children worldwide are commercially sexually exploited every year.


Espelage, Dorothy L.; Bosworth, Kris and Simon, Thomas R. Examining the Social Context of Bullying Behaviors in Early Adolescence. Journal of Counseling & Development; Summer2000, Vol. 78 Issue 3, p326, 8p [Full text available on EBSCO Host: Accession Number: 3310786]

Bullying Behavior: Current Issues, Research and Intervention. Edited by Robert A. Geffner, Marti Loring and Corinna Young. Haworth Press, Binghampton, NY 13904-1580, USA, 2002, 200 pp.

It is quite clear now that bullying in childhood can have long term consequences. See, for example: Adult Health Outcomes of Childhood Bullying Victimization: Evidence From a Five-Decade Longitudinal British Birth Cohort. Ryu Takizawa, M.D. Barbara Maughan and Louise Arseneault. Am J Psychiatry 2014. Their conclusion: ” Children who are bullied—and especially those who are frequently bullied—continue to be at risk for a wide range of poor social, health, and economic outcomes nearly four decades after exposure.”

Some excellent practical suggestions here: The Bully Project

Child Soldiers

300,000 children around the world are actively participating in more than 30 armed conflicts.

Homeless kids / street children
UNICEF estimates there are approximately 100 million street children worldwide.

Child Labor/Slavery
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has estimated that 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries-at least 120 million on a full time basis.

Physical Discipline/Spanking

There is substantial evidence of a connection between physical discipline and subsequent antisocial behavior and psychiatric disorders.

1) Harriet L. MacMillan, Michael H. Boyle, Maria Y.-Y. Wong, Eric K. Duku, Jan E. Fleming, and Christine A. Walsh. Slapping and spanking in childhood and its association with lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders in a general population sample. Can. Med. Assoc. J., Oct 1999; 161: 805 – 809. A pdf of the full article can be downloaded here.
Here’s a summary:

“Data from this Ontario community survey indicate that retrospective self-reports of slapping or spanking during childhood are common and that there is a linear association between the reported frequency of these experiences and lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorder. The association is weak for major depression and anxiety, and stronger for alcohol abuse or dependence and externalizing problems.”

2. Murray A. Straus, David B. Sugarman, Jean Giles-Sims. Spanking by Parents and Subsequent Antisocial Behavior of Children. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997;151:761-767 Here’s a summary:

When parents use corporal punishment to reduce anti-social behavior, the long-term effect tends to be the opposite. The findings suggest that if parents replace corporal punishment by nonviolent modes of discipline, it could reduce the risk of anti-social behavior among children and reduce the level of violence in American society.”

For many other studies by Straus go here

Or get his book: Straus, Murray A. Beating the devils out of them: Corporal punishment in American families. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Lexington, 1994). ISBN: 0765807548

3. Physical Punishment and The Development of Aggressive and Violent Behavior: A Review by Elizabeth Kandel

4. Greven, Philip J. Jr, The Protestant Temperament: Patterns of Child-Rearing, Religious Experience, and the Self in Early America (Vintage; Reprint edition (1992) ISBN: 0679733388

5. Tracie O. Afifi, Natalie P. Mota, Patricia Dasiewicz, Harriet L. MacMillan and Jitender Sareen, Pediatrics. 2012 Jul 2. Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results From a Nationally Representative US Sample. Conclusion: Harsh physical punishment in the absence of child maltreatment is associated with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse/dependence, and personality disorders in a general population sample.

Some starting points for further study:

  • Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts by William J. Webb (InterVarsity Press, 2011) — a thorough, honest, balanced and helpful exploration of the ways in which the biblical text has been used and misused in discussions of this kind.
  • spanking pros and cons
  • Conservative Protestantism and the Corporal Punishment of Children : Clarifying the Issues. by Christopher G. Ellison, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 0021-8294, March 1, 1996, Vol. 35, Issue 1
  • Guidance for Effective Discipline: American Academy of Pediatrics
  • World Corporal Punishment Research

Pro-physical discipline arguments:

Anti-physical discipline arguments:

Abuse by BabySitters

Makes a good human interest story on slow news days but babysitters were responsible for only 4.2 percent of the reported crimes against children under 6 years—fewer than crimes committed by family members, other acquaintances, or even strangers. See:

Abuse by Siblings

This is an often overlooked problem and a particularly complicated one for families. It is not just a problem in childhood so it’s inclusion here is a bit arbitrary. Here are a few links:

  1. Russell, Diana E. 1986. The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women. Basic Books, Inc. Publishers, New York, NY , p. 103 

  2. Crewdson, John. 1988. By Silence Betrayed: Sexual Abuse of Children in America. Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, NY , 1988, p. 31 

  3. Blume, E. Sue. 1990. Secret Survivors: Uncovering Incest and Its Aftereffects in Women. John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY , p. 4 

  4. Lloyd DeMause The Universality of Incest The Journal of Psychohistory, Fall 1991, Vol. 19, No. 2 

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