The degree to which a person who suffers abuse during childhood is damaged by the experience will depend upon a number of different factors.
Those who research such factors have split them into two groups :
1) RISK FACTORS – these are factors connected to the abuse that are likely to increase the emotional damage it causes
2) PROTECTIVE FACTORS – these are factors that are likely to reduce the emotional damage the abuse causes
THE FACTORS INFLUENCING THE SEVERITY OF EFFECTS OF ABUSE :
- if the child confides in somebody about the abuse, the response of that person is of great importance: if the child is made to feel shame over what has happened, or his/her complaint is minimized or not taken seriously, the damage done by the abuse is likely to be very significantly increased. If, on the other hand, the child’s complaint is taken seriously and s/he is offered emotional support and understanding, the effects of the abuse are likely to be reduced.
- The effects of abuse will tend to be increased if the abuser has a particularly close relationship with the child. This includes parents, step-parents or other primary carers in a position of trust and who are responsible for the welfare of the child.
- The age of the child is also of importance; in general terms, the younger the child is when the abuse is occurring, the more psychological damage the child is likely to incur.
- Another highly relevant factor concerns the duration of the abuse – the longer it went on, the more harmful its effects are likely to be
- The severity of the abuse is also clearly relevant; the greater the severity, the greater the psychological distress caused,
- The form that the abuse takes is another vital consideration eg physical, sexual, emotional or neglect? Recent research is starting to indicate that emotional neglect may be particularly damaging, due, of course, to the child’s fundamental need to be shown warmth, affection and love. Being deprived of these things can have particularly serious consequences.
- Finally, it is very important to consider the relationships the child has with people other than the abuser. If the child has good emotional support from people outside the family (eg friends, teachers etc) and/or has some family members who express love and affection towards him/her (eg grandparents, siblings), this can make the child more resilient and protect him/her from the worst effects of the abuse.
Each case, however, is unique and the above factors interact in highly complex ways which cannot be precisely measured; therefore, it is difficult to predict with any degree of accuracy how specific individuals will be affected by their traumatic experiences. Each case needs to be evaluated on its own particular merits.
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David Hosier BSc Hons ; MSc ; PGDE(FAHE).