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Child Abuse

  • By: Denise Vallance
  • In: Encyclopedia of Motherhood
  • Edited by: Andrea O'Reilly
  • Subject:Sociology of Gender, Parenting, Maternal Health

Child abuse is a socially defined construct; as such, it does not lend itself to an easy definition. It is a highly controversial and complex concept, subject to constant change that is influenced by a range of political and cultural factors. Historically, the highly publicized case of the abuse of a young girl named Mary Ellen Wilson led to a public outcry resulting in the foundation of the Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty to Children in 1874, which ultimately initiated dramatic changes in society's treatment of children.

However, it was not until 1974 when formal legislation was passed in North America that clearly defined a mandate for the reporting of physical child abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and physical neglect. Estimates of child ...

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