Child Abuse Series: Who Determines Abuse?

The recent cases of child abuse in the news has a lot of parents wondering just what constitutes child abuse. ChildHelp defines child abuse as "action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child." So who determines if a child has been abused?

In the case of Minnesota Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson, it was the court. Now remember he "whipped" the child with a tree branch or switch. The boy suffered deep bruises and open cuts to his legs, thighs, buttocks and scrotum. Other cases that have hit the media also rely upon the court system to determine whether or not a child has been abused.

 However, each case is different and so is the determination. In Peterson's case, there was a plea bargain that reduced the felony child abuse charge to a misdemeanor reckless assault charge. In other cases, parents and caregivers have received long jail sentences for whipping their children with everything from a belt to a boat oar. Why the disparity in the way most cases are handled? I think the problem lies in the definition.

All spankings--and I am both a victim and a perpetrator--are not all bad. There are times when a single swat with the palm of the hand on the butt carries more weight, in my opinion, than all the "No, no, no"'s in the world. However, in the definition of child abuse there is no determination regarding what constitutes "injury". That determination is left up to the doctors, lawyers, courts, and the state the child lives in, and that is why there is wide disparity in sentencing abusers, and an even greater disparity in the rights of children. 

Perhaps it is time to clarify the definition so that everyone in every state is on the same page, so that children receive the legal protection they deserve.  For more information, visit Child Help at

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