Emotional Abuse in Children: Variations in Legal Definitions and Rates Across the United States

Stephanie Hamarman, Kayla Pope, Sally J. Czaja

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Child emotional abuse has an intangible quality that has resulted in confusion regarding both medical and legal definitions. This retrospective review of emotional, physical, sexual abuse, and neglect rates reported by the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect Data System revealed a 300-fold variation in the rate of emotional abuse across state boundaries. By contrast, the rates of physical and sexual abuses, which are much easier to define, were significantly more consistent. To better understand the potential reasons for the unique variability of emotional abuse, an analysis of sociodemographic factors was performed and no correlations were found. However, a systematic review of state laws on child emotional abuse revealed that states having inclusive civil and/or inclusive caretaker culpability statutes were more likely to report higher rates of child emotional abuse. This study supports a need for child maltreatment researchers and advocates to develop clear consensus definitions to aid the legal community in adopting uniform inclusive statutes to protect children from emotional abuse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303-311
Number of pages9
JournalChild Maltreatment
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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