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ENOTA KOPER
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e-mail: dnk.koper(at)siol.net
VIOLENCE AGAINST CHILDREN


Violent parenting leads to a child’s inadequate behavioural patterns Children are very receptive to negative messages about themselves, others and the world. Adults often use violence against children with educational arguments. They use violence to teach a child something. Although they use it with good intentions, violence causes a child to feel pain, fear, sadness, anger. Adults use violence as a shortcut to achieve discipline, obedience, proper behaviour. Nevertheless, a child mainly gets harmful messages and learns inappropriate behavioural patterns, such as:
  • Inappropriate patterns of behaviour for relationships with others;
  • Strategies for withdrawal or resistance;
  • It is ok to use violence "out of love";
  • It is ok to use violence to achieve something;
  • It is important to have power and misuse it over others. "When I grow up, I'll do the same to others."
  • That someone who disagrees with you or has done something wrong deserves to be beaten;
  • That you cannot expect security from those who claim they love you;
  • That a child's feelings are irrelevant, false, harmful;
  • Subordination;
  • Revenge;
  • Patterns of violent conflict resolution;
  • Solving  stressful situations or problems  by directing aggression against others;
  • That violence is allowed when you lose your nerves;
  • That talking about problems is irrelevant.


Using violence when raising a child is inadequate parenting. Children are completely dependent on adults for all their needs and rights. Their social position is a position with little power. The disparity in power is understandable, as adults have more positional and personal power than children. That is why adults take care for children and are responsible for them. However, this has nothing to do with the tendency of adults to abuse their power over children as a shortcut to achieve certain objectives when raising a child. On the contrary, abusing power over children is an example of inadequate parenting.  



Parents should teach their children to use non-violent communication and behavioural patterns. Adults are often violent against children with good intentions. However, with violence they are mostly doing damage to a child.

The world has changed a lot. Nowadays, children are facing different challenges than in the past. Hence, parenting and educational methods are changing. In today's world emotional intelligence and good communication skills are especially important. Parents have a great role in the development of one and the other. By developing their own communication skills and granting unconditional acceptance of a child and their feelings, parents teach children how to recognize and express their own feelings needs and desires, without hurting others or themselves. The use of violence, on the other hand, teaches children the wrong patterns of problem solving.


Children learn from experience and role models.
Children need clear boundaries, feeling of security and strong parents. None of this has anything to do with violence. Adults can achieve it by communicating with children, by paying respect to child’s personality, giving clear messages, by being determined and know how to control their own inappropriate impulses.

The main point of raising a child is not managing the child, but encouraging and supporting them, and setting boundaries. All these can be a basis for a healthy relationship. Setting boundaries means to present the child (taking into account their needs and desires) in a respectful way our expectations and rules of behaviour.


We should make it clear to a child what kind of behaviour is expected from them.
Before choosing an upbringing approach, it is important to answer the following questions:
  • What do I want to achieve?
  • Is this goal important and why is it important?
  • How does a child's behaviour affect the achievement of this goal?
  • What is the intensity of child's suffering when using certain approach?
  • What are the consequences of a chosen upbringing approach?

What is psychological violence against children?When children and adults talk about  psychological violence, they usually mention one of the following forms: 
  • Intentional disparaging, name-calling and other forms of offensive behaviour towards a child, which affect their self-esteem and self-image.
  • Neglecting children's emotional needs, emotional warmth, failure to respond to child’s emotional distress, not supporting a child in circumstances, which the child cannot cope alone with.
  • Demands that exceed child’s abilities.
  • Conditionality of love (for example, parents love a child only when they behave as they wish, otherwise they do not love them or reject them).
  • Depriving a child of an opportunity to develop into an independent, unique personality and develop their potential.
  • Rejection and unjust behaviour in comparison to siblings.
  • Failure to respond to child's needs and not paying attention when a child is in trouble or in need.
  • To ridicule and mock a child, use of degrading terms, public humiliation, attributing negative characteristics.
  • Causing fear, discipline by intimidation, threatening with physical attack.
  • Leaving a small child alone.
  • Isolating a child, spatial isolation, locking a child, prohibition on contact with adults or peers.
  • Forcing a child to observe violence or to participate in violent situations. Using a child to blackmail the other parent or adult.
  • Generalising child's inappropriate behaviour to the child's personality. For example: "You haven’t done your homework again! You are such a lazy child."
  • Blaming a child for your own unpleasant feelings: "I have never felt as embarrassed as today because of your behaviour".

What is physical violence or child maltreatment?
Physical violence is any form of corporal punishment, including one that leaves no visible effects on the body.  Any violence leaves effects on child's psyche and is inexcusable.
When to suspect that a child is experiencing physical violence?
  • When a child repeatedly has body wounds, bruises or burns.
  • When a child hides wounds and bruises under long sleeves and pants and is dressed like this, even when it's hot or during gym.
  • When a child doesn’t want to talk about injuries or makes up a strange story of how they’ve got them.
  • When adults explain child's injuries with stories that seem unbelievable or too common.
  • When a child is afraid that we will talk about injuries with parents.
  • When a child has bruises on soft parts of the body, which could be caused by someone biting or pinching.
  • When a child is afraid to go home.
  • When a child has a very strong emotional reaction when receiving a bad mark or when they make a mistake, about which parents will be notified.
  • When a child is afraid to be examined by a doctor.
  • When a child shows self- destructive tendencies.
  • When a child uses violence towards others and has other behavioural problems.
  • When a child runs away from home.
What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse and sexual assault on child is exploitation of a child in sexual activities with an adult or with a person who is older than a child.  A child is abused as a sexual object to satisfy the sexual needs or desires of adults or older people. Due to unequal power in the relationship between a child and another person a child has no chance to refuse sexual activity, directed to them.
The task of all adults is to respect and protect the sexual integrity of children.
Child sexual abuse happens when an adult or an older person:
  • Tries to make contact between genitals of an adult and a child's genitals;
  • Makes contact with a child’s genitals or breasts in all circumstances, that are not socially acceptable;
  • Forces a child (or makes him without force) to touch intimate body parts of an adult;
  • Intentionally exposes his/her intimate parts of the body, in circumstances that are unusual for such behaviour (not during washing, dressing, on the beach ...);
  • Deliberately encourages a child to expose their genitals in inappropriate or unusual circumstances;
  • When there is any other form of physical contact or forcing a child into other sexual activities.
In cases of suspected sexual abuse, it is of no importance whether a child has consented to the activity or not.
Regardless of a child's view on the behaviour, described above, it is a fact that an adult takes advantage of their maturity, age and child’s trust. Children are most often sexually abused by someone they know well (family members, family friends, teachers or other adults that play a role in a child's life).
Abused children tend to have strong feelings of guilt. Perpetrators do everything possible that abuse would not be noticed. They tell a child the abuse is their own secret and that something bad will happen to a child or people they love if they tell anyone about it. A perpetrator convinces a child that they are the ones who are responsible for everything that has happen or is going to happen.
Every child can be a victim of sexual abuse. Adults need to create a safe place for children to be able to speak about things, they are afraid to talk about. Denial of the possibility of child sexual abuse creates new opportunities for abuse.
How to recognize child sexual abuse?
  • A child starts talking with a trusted person about something that is going on, which they don’t describe as unusual or uncomfortable. Sometimes they speak of an imaginary child or character that is behaving differently to them than others. They usually talk about sexuality and sexual organs in a way that is unusual for their age.
  • A child changes their behaviour. They show an unusual interest in sexual organs and sexual relations. They avoid touching and/or certain people. Sometimes they start behaving in a seductive way, often masturbate or touch their genitals or sexual organs of others. Sometimes their school performance worsens; they often show low level of attention and aggressive behaviour. They might show sudden reluctance to be alone with someone they know.
  • Children, who experience sexual abuse, often have health problems, especially with the bladder, urinary tract disorders and difficulty in walking or sitting. They may also complain about pain or itching in the genital area.  They might vomit often and have problems with incontinence. They also complain about pain in the lower abdomen.
What to do when children speak about violence or sexual abuse?
Children, especially small, do not lie about abuse. It is more important to help them immediately than to start investigating whether they are telling the truth.
It is important that we take seriously everything a child tells us about abuse as well as any other signs. We should immediately seek help. Adults often accuse themselves of failing to notice the abuse sooner. It is hard to accept that a child has been abused. Moreover, abuse often remains hidden for a long time as perpetrators find effective ways to keep it secret. Acknowledging the fact that a child (or that we have experienced) sexual abuse can threaten our overall sense of safety in the world. That is why every disclosure is connected to great distress. Especially if we know that a perpetrator is usually someone who is close to the family. Confidence about who can be trusted, and in one’s own judgments about friends, family members and other people, are questioned.
It is important to believe a child. Even if we find out later on that there was no abuse, the harm made  will have less severe consequences than if sexual abuse remained hidden.
When children tell us about violence or when it is suspected, it is our legal duty to report it to the authorities.
It is important that whenever a child talks about any form of violence, we actively participate in the conversation. It means that we have to pay attention to what a child says. It is essential that a child has a positive experience with a first confidential conversation about violence. We always believe a child and seek help. The task of a trusted person is not to seek evidence and then decide what to do. They must take action immediately, which means informing school professionals, organizations that work with children, centre for social work or/and police. It is essential that we tell a child that they are not responsible for violence and that violence is unjustifiable, no matter what a child has done or hasn’t done. We must emphasize that violence is not their fault. Our approach should be calm and direct. We should use open questions. It is difficult for small children to answer indirect questions.
The aim of all action is increasing child’s safety. Violence against children should be reported to the authorities.
How to respond when a child starts talking about violence in the family?
When a child shares with us their experience with violence, we often find ourselves in a distress, not knowing how to react. Here are some basic rules which may help you:
  1. It is important that you respond calmly and thus strengthen the child's self-confidence and confidence in you.
  2. It is important to believe a child. Do not express doubt. Show great interest.
  3. Stress the fact that a child is not responsible for violence.
  4. Compliment them on telling you about violence. It takes a lot of courage.
  5. Tell the child what you are going to do and explain them why it is important to take action. Do not make promises that you cannot keep.
  6. Take action! Report violence to police or ask for help local centre for social work. That is the only way to help preventing further violence.
  7. Don’t try to solve the situation yourself (by talking to parents etc.).
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