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Physical Abuse

Religious Physical AbuseSome child abuse cases take place in schools run by religious figures such as Nuns, Monks, and other similar orders. Overly enthusiastic physical punishment for misdemeanours has often become physical abuse.

The border line between reasonable chastisement and physical abuse is often a small one. In schools, where abuse took place some years ago, it is necessary to examine the rules of punishment to determine how appropriate the punishment is/was.

In general terms, caning with trousers down in physical abuse, whereas giving the cane over trousers is often permitted, whereas it would be illegal in modern times.

Physical Abuse involves contact intended to cause feelings of intimidation, pain, injury, or other physical suffering or harm.

Physical Abuse can of course happen between two adults, but in the context of child abuse it involves the unnecessary exercise of control and power by a person (usually and adult but sometimes another child), who is in control of a situation over a vulnerable child with much less choice over his/her actions.

It is not illegal to smack your child in the UK. It is however physical abuse when:-

  • An imprint of a hand is left on the body
  • The action leaves a bruise

If a child is brought up in an extremely violent household where severe punishment is the norm, he/she may not know at the time, that the abuse was wrong.

The line between corporal punishment at school and physical abuse is sometimes hard to define, particularly if one is looking back at the 1960’s, 70’s, and even the early 1980’s, when it was not illegal to physically punish a child with the cane, or even a strap.

Physical abuse often carries with it a sexual thrill derived from the excessive use of force over a less powerful child. Hence it is not uncommon to find sexual abuse taking place after an overly excessive bout of corporal punishment. Sometimes the person administering the punishment will apologise, cuddle the sobbing child, then take advantage of them sexually disguised as part of an act of comfort.

What can physical abuse include?
  • Putting a child in abject fear of an imminent attack
  • An actual physical attack causing noticeable harm
  • Corporal punishment which is outside of the rules governing the use of punishment at an establishment. For instance, in the 1960’s all schools would have a punishment book, which usually governed how punishment should be administered. In all cases, trousers down was forbidden, and trousers up was acceptable (for boys). Rules, however, did vary from place to place.
  • Kidnapping, or physical restraint against someone’s will. This would include illegal trafficking of children from foreign countries which is not uncommon.
  • Torture – this probably needs no elaboration, but is not uncommon in the context of criminal gangs operating both outside, and inside this country. See our sexual exploitation page (Joel insert link)
  • Administering of illegal drugs/alcohol to enable the abuser to take advantage of the child

What effects does physical abuse have on a victim?
  • In a religious context, physical abuse can make a respected belief system untrusted
  • Sometimes violence is sanctioned by the religious order as a method of creating obedience and discipline. Arguably a holy war is physical abuse albeit of the enemy, a tenuous argument admittedly.
  • It was, at one time believed that evil spirits could be purged from the soul by the use of physical methods.
  • Physical Injuries of every type imaginable ranging from a bruise to the permanent damage of male and female private parts, but ultimately death in some cases, particularly in snuff movies, or child sacrifice, which is not uncommon in ritual abuse (Joel link please)
  • Psychological injuries of an enduring nature including low self esteem, insecurity, intense inner anger often leading to violent behaviour, an anti-authoritarian attitude often leading to employment problems, anti-social behaviour, alcohol and drug abuse, lack of confidence, and mild symptoms of paranoia, or the desire for control for fear of being out of control, chaotic life style etc.
  • Physical Abuse can also include burns, drowning, and poisoning. There are no doubt other injuries too numerous to list here.

We thank NAPAC (National Association for Prevention of Abuse in Childhood) for allowing us to use this and other definitions.

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