Abuse: More than meets the eye

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho — The word abuse often conjures images of bruises, swollen lips and harsh markings, but abuse is more than meets the eye. It can be much more than physical suffering and can have lasting effects on a person’s well-being.

There are four types of abuse, explained Kristina Holubar, 366th Medical Group Family Advocacy Program assistant. “There’s emotional, physical, neglect and sexual.”

Although physical abuse may be the most recognized, emotional abuse is actually the most common — and most overlooked — form of abuse.

“Emotional (abuse) is so easy to do to another person, and people don’t even realize they’re doing it a lot of times,” said Captain David Snowden, 366th MDG Family Advocacy Program officer. “Or if they do, they’re not willing to acknowledge it.”

Emotional abuse can include name-calling, controlling behaviors and withholding resources such as bank account access and driver’s licenses. It can also coincide with other forms of abuse.

Neglect is also a form of abuse that can be hard to see.

Although abuse has no age limit, neglect is seen more in young children, said Holubar. It can include leaving children unattended, withholding an education, not providing food and a lack of medical care.

“Generally, when you have a neglect case like that, there’s going to be emotional (abuse),” Snowden said.

Sexual abuse is the hardest of all four to actually detect. There’s a very broad spectrum of what can be considered sexual abuse.

“We have cases that range from very minor — ‘I felt uncomfortable’ — to the obvious: rape,” he said.

Although there are many factors that can determine whether a situation is deemed abusive, Snowden gives a good rule of thumb to follow: “Anything that causes harm to another person, intentionally or ignorantly.”

No matter the form, abuse almost always leaves a scar in the victim’s life. Recent studies show people who were abused at an early age tend to have problems throughout the entire course of their life, he explained.

“They have problems with forming and maintaining relationships, difficulties studying at school, holding a job — I mean, you name it, it affects it,” he said.

Not only can abuse contribute to mental and social issues, but it can increase the chance for more abuse to occur. It can start a cycle of violence.

“When you learn something, you’re more likely to do it,” Snowden said. “Usually if you’re involved in abuse as a victim or an offender, it’s going to perpetuate.”

A recent statistic shows just how hard it is to break the cycle, stating that 50 percent of children of an abused parent are often involved in abuse as a victim or an offender at some point in their life.

Despite the difficulty of recognizing abuse, there are some warning signs.

Physical abuse is usually obvious, explained Holubar, but the other signs of abuse aren’t so apparent.

“For emotional, it could be where the child will run up to a stranger and befriend them immediately,” she said. “It shows that they want the attention they’re not getting at home.”

The lack of ‘stranger danger’ can also be due to the fact that the child has had to become comfortable with many people taking care of them, a lack of resources on the parent’s end.

The signs of neglect, however, can be a little more noticeable.

Messy, dirty clothes, unkempt hair and hunger are three big ones, Holubar said.

“If they’re at school and they want to eat right away, that could mean they didn’t get breakfast at home,” she said.

Sexual abuse warning signs seem to be the most difficult to see, explained Snowden. They are typically identified by changes in behavior. Oftentimes teachers and school counselors will be the ones to pick up on the slight changes, he said.

It’s just as important to be aware of these issues in your own home. Snowden encourages people to take classes and get educated, at the very least he said to call and ask questions if you feel you’re in a gray area.

“We want to help as much as we can,” Snowden said. “We want to prevent maltreatment rather than have to deal with it after the fact.”

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