What Is Child Abuse? –Part 1

Child abuse is a more recent phenomenon, even though it has been occurring since the dawn of humankind. It was not until the nineteenth century where society saw children as being, well, children.

I remember hearing somewhere our predecessors viewed children as little adults, pointing to artwork that displayed the Madonna with a mini-adult like Jesus.

Thanks to modernity and a greater understanding of children’s developmental needs that seems to have gone by the wayside, until the last several years which I will address in later articles.

The Discovery of Sexual Abuse

In the nineteen-eighties, my first position following graduate school was with the Massachusetts Department of Social Services now coined the Department of Children and Families.

Before my hiring, a babysitter killed a child in her care, and if I recall correctly, it received national attention.

There were local politics, of course, and the consequences were the worker’s and supervisor’s demotions. They needed another investigative social worker. Thus, here I came.

The office was under siege, creating a most distressed environment.

About the same time, sexual abuse reports crawled out of the woodwork.

A disturbing phenomenon? Yes, but not new, and not rare either.

It was not until the latter seventies did professionals discover the symptoms of incest/sexual abuse victims bore an eery similarity to the Vietnam Vets’ symptoms.

These now fall under the diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

I am not suggesting this is common, but less infrequent than thought otherwise.

The Safety of The Child

We were in a busy office with many cases filed. During a summer month, there were so many reports that we took bets to see the number we would reach and needed some humor to lighten the load of this very dark atmosphere.

Many of these filings were dramatic and fear-based. However, they required investigation to ensure no harm to the child.

Sometime during the short time I was there (a year and a half), an assignment came my way regarding a woman’s care for her children. I never forgot this specific one.

The reason the case opened was because of the mother’s choice of work, prostitution. What needed to be determined was whether the mother’s employment affected the children.

I do not recall meeting the mother, but we relied on sources close to her. After a short period, I wrote my report, citing no evidence of the children suffering from neglect or abuse, which included being aware of their mother’s work activities. I recommended it be closed. My superiors agreed without reservation.

Child abuse regulations in Massachusetts outlined their definitions of child abuse/neglect.

Neglect seemed clear but could be subjective.

Abuse, often the more serious charge, needed examination of its varying degrees.

Did a light spanking fall under the guidelines versus a bruise because of a beating? Was living in extreme fear considered abuse? Does leering at a child versus touching, fall under the definition? What does leering mean? Did one lascivious look equate to chronic voyeurism? Although unbecoming to repugnant, these activities have to be assessed when you have an enormous umbrella of abuse and neglect.

These issues needed to be explored with special attention during a time of crisis and fear.

Nothing Else Mattered

Returning to the mother who worked in the oldest profession, we were not there to judge her work. The most important issue was the safety of the child. Perhaps this woman, like many, felt desperate and needed to feed her children. We never knew.

Many women and men choose this profession because they are victims of abuse. Do I support this as a choice? No, I believe it is dangerous and demeaning, but I understand. If someone exploited a child, a later decision to control their body as they wish makes sense to them, even if not to us.

In some areas, child abuse and neglect are clear cut, but as I explained in others, not the case. I will dissect more of this in the future because the boundary between obvious child abuse and lifestyle seems to blur, and that is NOT a good thing. More to come.

Your Thoughts

I invite you to share your thoughts about the issue of child abuse.


Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett views herself as a life-long learner, a pursuer of excellence, a work-in-progress, and a seeker-of-the-truth. She is also referred to as the "Unstuck Expert" in her many roles. Why? Because for over thirty years, she has been assisting people to get unstuck. Darlene's primary roles are now Therapist, Hypnotherapist, and Author/Writer. Although she loves speaking, it is now secondary and done mainly through her podcast, "Get Unstuck Now. Because of her wealth of experience, Darlene began putting her thoughts on paper.  Many of her blogs can also be found on Medium, Sixty and Me, and Penning these articles set the stage for her first book, "Stop Depriving The World of You," traditionally published by Sound Wisdom. Being a believer in pushing oneself as long as one has life, Darlene has tried her hand at fiction, hoping to have something completed in the no-so-distant future. Over the years, Darlene has been described as animated or effervescent which contradicts the perception of a psychotherapist. She firmly believes in the importance of being authentic and discusses platinum-style authenticity in her book.

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  1. I thought of waiting until I read all three parts of your article, Darlene, but after reading Part 1, it made me think of the tears I shed in 2015 when I heard what some mothers were doing to their daughters in my home country.

    Young girls, 14 or younger were reportedly being put into prostitution by their own mothers so as to provide income for the family. And it seems that a blind eye was turned on these practices. Can you imagine what this does to the child who is not allowed to be a child?

    • Yvonne, my dear, thank you for reading and commenting. How sad for those children! I cannot imagine the fate of those young buds. There is so much unfairness in the world. I hope some, because I know it will not be all of them, manage to escape this dead end and find a path toward freedom and light.

  2. Thank you dear Lynn! I have been MIA in many areas due to my attention on my robust practice and writing project. I appreciate your poignant comment. I cannot agree more. It is most disturbing, and a part of life’s unfairness. Like you, I am a person of faith, and although I not always successful, over the years, I have given it my best to help people heal from painful secrets of long ago. I thank God he has given me the energy and bandwidth to do so.

  3. Great article Darlene, and one that deserves attention. Having worked in Law Enforcement for over 20 years, handling calls where little ones were abused and neglected, it tugs at the heart beyond words. So many times I left the scene of a call and would go somewhere to shed a tear alone, to pray, to call on God for courage to continue to do the job, even under the worst circumstances. God Bless

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