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Emotional Abuse: The Hidden Form of Maltreatment

NCJ Number
Adam M. Tomison; Joe Tucci
Date Published
36 pages
This paper explores the range of controversies inherent in attempts to operationalize a definition of emotional abuse within legal, practice, and research frameworks.
The paper includes an overview of current research investigating aspects of emotional abuse, specifically, children's witnessing spousal violence, the use of emotional abuse in the minimization of abusive concerns, and emotional abuse in the context of systems abuse. The paper contains a detailed discussion of emotional abuse, which it describes as the most hidden and underestimated form of child maltreatment. Emotional abuse does not leave physical injuries and its ongoing nature usually means there is no crisis which would bring attention to the situation from health, welfare, or criminal justice systems. A particular form of systems abuse that is not often mentioned in the literature is emotional abuse within educational settings. A proportion of teachers commonly use emotional abuse in conjunction with other punitive disciplining practices as a means of exerting control. The paper notes that the tendency in society is to address the forms of child maltreatment which involve identifiable acts of omission or commission by adults, and which produce observable negative consequences for children. Although recognized for the severity of its impact, emotional abuse remains on the margins of child abuse. Tables, references