Child abuse has a wide range of negative effects on society. The most damaging effect may be that of child abuse spreading itself. People who were abused as children are much more likely to end up mimicking that abusive behavior with their own children. The problems associated with child abuse will only continue and likely grow larger without active attempts to eliminate the problem.
The effects of child abuse are hard to quantify in many respects, but one way that they can be measured is in dollars spent in dealing with its consequences. The group Prevent Child Abuse America (www.preventchildabuse.org) attempted in 2001 to measure these monetary costs. Counting factors such as medical bills and costs to the welfare and legal systems, the group estimated that more than $24.3 billion is spent annually in dealing with child abuse and its aftermath. That is a substantial amount of money that could otherwise be used to improve out society in any number of ways.
At the individual level, victims of child abuse may have difficulties in school, leading to poorer employment prospects later in life and placing the victim at higher risk of living in poverty. Child abuse victims can also experience social and psychological problems that cause them to become isolated from general society. They might also turn to alcohol or drugs as ways of escape and risk becoming dependent on these substances. These situations can all contribute to making the victim more likely to act in ways harmful to society, such as criminal activity, violence and continuing the pattern of abuse.
Child abuse has garnered more and more attention over the years. Statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services show this increased attention has led to higher rates of reported suspected abuse and decreasing rates of actual abuse. This means that more and more unsubstantiated cases of child abuse are being reported to authorities. Such a high level of scrutiny makes the challenging job of parenting a child all the more difficult. Many parents find themselves afraid to discipline their child even verbally in public for fear of being viewed as possibly abusive. As a result, children can come to see public places such as supermarkets and shopping malls as safe havens for misbehavior. Children who view the mall as a safe place to talk back to mom and dad may grow into teens who view the mall as a place where they can engage in reckless and harassing behavior with impunity.
Child abuse is a blight on society from every angle. It is only through increased vigilance and a willingness by members of the society to report suspected abuse that we will have any hope of removing that blight. We must be careful, though, that vigilance against abusive parents does not become persecution of those honestly trying to raise happy, well-adjusted and respectful children.