Why do people abuse?
What is abuse? Why do people do it?
The question we get asked more than any other is why do people abuse people. In this post we describe different forms of abuse, share what type of people are abusers, and why they do it. You’ll also find tips and links to information on preventing abuse and protecting your children.
What Is Abuse?
For our purposes, abuse is defined as purposely harming someone, or purposely and deliberately denying things that are essential. Usually, we talk about physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children, neglect of children, and we use the term domestic violence when we talk about any type of relationship violence between two adults or similarly-aged teenagers in a romantic relationship.
Physical abuse is intentionally harming, damaging, or causing excessive physical pain to someone (adults are legally allowed to cause a certain amount of physical pain to their children).
When we talk about children, sexual abuse is when an adult or much older child uses a child for their sexual gratification. This includes obvious acts where the adult has physical contact with the child, and also includes deriving sexual gratification from watching a child naked, or watching a child engage in sexual activity. In the context of adults, sexual abuse refers to one adult engaging in sexual activity with another adult who did not or could not consent to the activity.
Psychological/emotional abuse is a pattern of intentionally demeaning, hurting, or isolating the victim, or repeatedly depriving them of affection. It may include things like persistent mockery, name-calling, berating and frightening. It can also include blaming the victim for things they couldn’t possibly control (it’s your fault that I lost my job), threats of violence against them, a family member or a pet, mock execution, and sleep deprivation.
Domestic abuse is characterized by a pattern of controlling and coercive behavior designed to keep one partner frightened and submissive. It may or may not include physical abuse, sexual abuse, and financial abuse, but there will almost definitely be psychological abuse. Contrary to popular belief, domestic violence comes from a belief system. Drugs, alcohol and mental illness don’t change someone’s beliefs, just their actions. When an addict becomes sober, their abuse may become more subtle, less physical, and harder to spot, but it’s unlikely sobriety will change their belief systems or make them stop abusing.
Very often, multiple types of abuse happen in the same family. The physical, sexual and financial abuses commonly seen in domestic abuse cannot be achieved without psychological abuse. When children are sexually abused, their abuser almost always employs psychological abuse to get their victim to submit and to stay silent. Parents who abuse their partner are more likely to abuse their children.
What Kind of People are Abusers?
There is no age bracket, socio-economic group or racial group that is immune from suffering abuse or abusing. The demographics of American sex offenders perfectly mirror the demographics of America. But here are a few generalizations about abusers: Most sex offenders and perpetrators of domestic violence are male. Most sex offenders are heterosexual, and most of them have sexual relationships with adults as well as children. 40% of child sexual abuse is committed by minors- some of them are 17 years and eleven months old, and some of them are three. Most confirmed cases of child neglect are committed by women. Child neglect is strongly associated with poverty. Most people who abuse or neglect children, who enter an abusive relationship or who commit domestic violence endured abuse or witnessed domestic violence as children, although it is not accurate to say that most people who survived these abuses repeat them- it simply increases the risk.
Why Do People Abuse?
Much child physical and psychological abuse is linked to parental frustration, lack of parenting skills, difficulty bonding with children and stress levels. Much child sexual abuse is linked to sexual attraction to children. Child neglect is most often linked to parental drug addiction, mental illness, stressors and difficulty bonding with their children. Domestic violence stems from a feeling of entitlement- on some level, the abuser believes they are allowed to use whatever means necessary to get their way in a relationship. And this feeling of entitlement often plays a role in all forms of child abuse.
What Prevents Abuse?
Since abuse has different causes, different types require different things to prevent it. Since part of what causes domestic violence is the belief that the abuser will escape consequences, ensuring he experiences strict consequences tends to prevent it- that’s the essence of The Quincy Solution. There are also programs domestic abusers can enter that hold them accountable for their attendance and force them to re-evaluate their beliefs of entitlement. Maternal Home visiting programs that help new mothers bond with their babies and connect them with resources in the community prevent the mother from being abusive, neglectful, and help her deal with her own mental health and substance abuse issues. Adults can learn to understand the dynamics and warning signs of child sexual abuse, and therefore can learn how to protect kids from it. There are specific programs that help sex offenders reduce and cope with their sexual attraction to children. Feelings of entitlement often play a role in child sexual abuse- this can be dealt with as well. But the general consensus from experts is that someone who has sexually abused a child should never be allowed around children, unsupervised, again, no matter what therapies they have had.
How Can I Protect My Kids From Abuse?
No matter what your personal background is, you can protect your children from abuse, and wanting to is the first step.
Avoid all physical punishment- that will make your job as a parent easier, anyway. Avoid using extreme fear, guilt and shame as punishments. You want your child to walk away from punishment understanding what they did wrong and how to avoid doing it again, not afraid that they will be hurt every time they make a mistake.
Realize that most sex offenders never get caught, convicted or registered. That means you can’t rely on registries. Resign yourself to the fact they are everywhere, your child will come into contact with them, your child will probably like them and you will probably trust them. Learn how to protect your child from them.
If you suffer from a mental illness or are addicted to drugs or alcohol, seek professional treatment. Addiction and mental illness can impair your ability to parent. They can also put you on the radar for your state’s version of Child Protective Services, which you want to avoid if possible.
If you’re in an abusive relationship, contact your local DV shelter to learn about leaving safely. Living in an abusive relationship makes you a less effective parent. Living with domestic violence is one of the ten Adverse Childhood Experiences that causes children to live shorter, less healthy lives. And even if you don’t think your partner is abusing your children, it’s likely that he will.
If you are at all worried about your parenting skills, take a parenting class. See if there are parenting cafes in your community. Reach out to other parents who you respect. Keep yourself from being isolated, and being isolated makes you stressed.