Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is not specifically defined as a distinct category or reportable child abuse in the Reporting Law. While the law omits clear guidelines for defining emotional abuse and emotional neglect, the category of "willful cruelty or unjustifiable punishment" includes the prohibition against "unjustifiable mental suffering."

Emotional Abuse may have best been defined as "those acts or omissions which result in an injury to the intellectual and psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by a substantial impairment to the child's ability to function within a normal range of performance and behavior, or those acts or omissions which threaten to produce an injury".

Such acts might include:

  • Constant belittling of the child.
  • Threatening the child frequently.
  • Punishing the child with confinement.
  • Constantly disrupting relationships that are important to the child in order to punish the child or the adults involved.
  • Exposure to domestic violence.

Proving that such acts are actually damaging the child is much more difficult than proving physical abuse or neglect. Unless there are other signs of either physical abuse or neglect, reports of emotional abuse/neglect may not always result in a referral to Court. However, they may result in the parents being referred to counseling or parenting classes.

Children who witness domestic violence also witness the psychological/emotional abuse between the parents. Understanding the emotional climate of the home will help foster parents understand the child’s current behaviors and beliefs. T

Psychological/emotional abuse includes:

  • Humiliating the victim
  • Controlling what the victim can and cannot do
  • Withholding information from the victim
  • Deliberately doing something to make the victim feel diminished (e.g., less smart, less attractive),
  • Deliberately doing something that makes the victim feel embarrassed,
  • Taking advantage of the victim Invalidating the victim’s opinions or feelings
  • Belittling the victim Isolating the victim from friends or family
  • Prohibiting access to transportation or telephone
  • Getting the victim to engage in illegal activities
  • Using the victim’s children to control the victim’s behavior Smashing objects or destroying property
  • Disclosing information that would tarnish the victim’s reputation
  • Threatening loss of custody of children
  • Threatening to hurt pet(s)
  • Threatening deportation

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