February 24, 1996

Child maltreatment: Coming to terms with issues of definition.

Abstract: "This study addresses the critical need to delineate a clear definition of child maltreatment and its various forms. The goal of the study was twofold: (1) to identify the extent to which a consensus definition of child maltreatment currently exists; and (2) to examine the factors that influence individuals' definitions of child maltreatment. Participants were recruited from six groups: mental health professionals, legal professionals, medical professionals, preschool and elementary school teachers, parents, and non-parents. Through the administration of an anonymous written questionnaire incorporating both direct attitude questions and vignettes, the extent to which certain factors (e.g., the type of act, the frequency of the act, and the age of the child) influence definitions of child maltreatment, (2) the extent to which there is agreement among individuals and professional groups as to the factors that determine whether a particular act constitutes child maltreatment, (3) the extent to which individuals' own characteristics (e.g., profession, race, sex) influence their definitions of child maltreatment, and (5) the extent to which individuals' own child-rearing and abuse experiences influence their definitions of child maltreatment were examined. Areas of consensus in regard to severe instances of sexual abuse were identified and factors which influence determinations as to other acts investigated. Respondents agreed that actual physical or psychological harm to the child, whether the act is sexual in nature, seriousness of the act, frequency of the act, and an intent to harm the child, are key factors in making an abuse determination; however, troubling inconsistencies between participants' expressed attitudes and their applications of these factors emerged."
Sharon Gross Portwood
University of Virginia
Dickon N. Reppucci
Department of Psychology
Date Added November 10, 2016
Date Modifed October 17, 2017
Collection UVA scholarship on sexual violence, 1974-

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