Help psychologically-abused children receive legal assistance.

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Psychological abuse, also known as emotional abuse, is a serious form of abuse that can cause long-lasting physical and emotional damage to its victims, but cases of psychological abuse are often dismissed due to lack of physical evidence.

Psychological abuse is classified as any behavior that damage one’s emotional health, from verbal threats and humiliation to disregard of a person’s individuality. Despite the severe consequences of psychological abuse, awareness of its severity has only recently begun to grow. For decades it was regarded as a mere consequence of other forms of abuse, but it is now understood to be its own distinct form. While it is true that psychological abuse often occurs alongside other forms of abuse, researchers have found that it independently causes significant long-term damage to the mental health of its victims. Emotional abuse of children can permanently alter their perception of the world, causing them to feel unsafe, powerless, and pessimistic. These children carry the scars of their abuse with them for the rest of their lives, but so few are able to escape their situation because they are not visible.

I first learned about the difficulty of taking action against psychological abuse after hearing about my own friend’s struggle to escape it. Because her mother was emotionally abusive, she tried to win emancipation but failed because she couldn't provide enough evidence to warrant separation from her parent. If my friend-who was old enough to recognize that she was being mistreated and mature enough to make a stand against it- was unable to escape, I wondered how young children had any chance of doing the same. This opened my eyes to the shortcomings of our judicial system in protecting victims of psychological abuse, and I became determined to help victims like my friend be recognized.

The primary reason for the current inaction against psychological abuse is the difficulty to identify and prove it. Psychological abuse is a means for perpetrators to assert control over their victims through intimidation and threats. Children may be too afraid to disobey the authority of their parents and seek outside help if they are being mistreated. Even if victims decide to seek help in ending their abuse or it is recognized and reported by an outside observer, there is no guarantee that they will receive legal assistance. The covert nature of psychological abuse often causes investigators to feel helpless in intervening, so they tend to focus on more tangible forms of abuse instead.

In North Carolina, there were 6,661 alleged victims of emotional abuse Child Protection Services assessed between Jan. 2006 and Jan. 2015, but only 16.69% were substantiated as victims. According to Nancy Berson, a licensed clinical social worker of North Carolina, Child Protective Services workers often drop emotional abuse cases because they believe they will be rejected by the court. According to North Carolina Juvenile Code [G.S. 7B-101(1)], “The term 'abused juvenile' includes any child younger than age 18 whose parent, guardian, custodian, or caregiver creates or allows to be created serious emotional damage to the child. Serious emotional damage is evidenced by a child's severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior toward himself or others.” This narrow definition forces social workers to provide concrete physical evidence of abuse, which is not always present in psychological abuse cases. The purpose of this petition is to widen the legal definition of psychological abuse, so that victims can finally escape from the harmful environment that emotional abuse creates before it is too late.


Link to Online Campaign Poster

Sources of Information:

Children's Services: Data on Emotional Abuse In North Carolina

Child Welfare Gateway North Carolina Statutes

"Child Abuse and Neglect Policy"

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

"Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy"

"The Impact of Psychological Abuse on Children"

"Psychological Abuse: A Discussion Paper"



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