Family Violence: Adult-Child Sexual Abuse


The intensity of child abuse is highly dependent on the environment that the kid resides, which includes the home and the school. The vice takes different forms, and it can be sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional abuse. Children who are subject to any of the mentioned abuses exhibit redundancy in physical and mental development. The topic of child abuse has attracted numerous researchers seeking to unravel the risk and protective factors associated with the vice. The traditional studies emphasized the general risk aspects and protective factors. However, contemporary scholars have classified the risk factors into three broad categories, namely the Macro-system, the micro-system, and the Mesosystem factors (Swick & Williams, 2006).

Microsystems refer to the environments that children interact with, and they include the people and societies. On the other hand, Macro-systems refer to the cultural factors that affect the children directly, and they include the belief systems, the style of life, and the patterns of the social trade-off. Lastly, mesosystems denote the interaction between two or more Microsystems that prompts adaptation by the kid. This paper explores the risk and protection factors for child abuse in the light of Macro-system, microsystem, and mesosystems. The paper also examines the programs that target the prevention of child abuse, and it classifies such programs under the purviews of the microsystem, Macro-system, or mesosystem.

Risk and protective factors


Microsystems refer to the environment in which the kid resides. These systems are known to influence the development of a child significantly. The system is made up of the information that is heard and observed by infants during their early childhood. Moreover, it incorporates persons and societies that the child interacts with during the day-to-day endeavors. The Microsystems depend on the age and the activities that a child is involved in during infancy (Betancourt & Khan, 2008). The younger the child, the smaller the Microsystems, while the older the kid, the bigger the systems. Due to the complexity of the Microsystems and its relationship with the developmental of a child, they may predispose a child to abuse.

Risk factors in Microsystems

Family structures

A family structure refers to the nature and components of a family unit. Research indicates that family structures are among the primary risk factors for child maltreatment. Berns (2012) alleges that children brought up by single parents are more susceptible to abuse as compared to their counterparts who have both parents. In most cases, such abuse comes in the form of neglect, even though in some individual cases, it may involve physical or even sexual abuse. Neglect of children from single parents is attributed to the inability to take care of the child due to poverty, among other factors. Girls from families with a stepfather are likely to be subjected to sexual abuse. Besides, the number of household members may lead to neglect, especially where the parents are financially unstable to cater to family needs. In such a case, neglect and child labor is a common phenomenon as the children seek to create additional income for their upkeep.

Domestic conflicts

Children with parents who regularly engage in violence are likely to be molested as opposed to their counterparts whose parents are happily married. Research indicates that men, who are in violent marriages, are more likely to subject their children to physical abuse as opposed to women in a similar relationship (Tudge, Mokrova, Hatfield, & Karnik, 2009). However, women who are constantly battered by their husbands have a tendency to assume aggressive behaviors, and thus, they usually over-discipline their children. The over disciplining of children by one partner is caused by the desire to deter the other partner from disciplining them.

Family interactions

Coulton, Crampton, Irwin, Spilsbury, and Korbin (2007) found that mothers of children whose husbands are supportive are likely to be less abusive to their kids. This view is based on the assumption that such support lowers depression levels among the mothers, thus eliminating the chances of child abuse. Besides, the support availed by the father supplements the mother’s income hence eliminating chances of child neglect.

Protective factors

Change in legislation

Most countries around the world have come up with stringent laws to mitigate the incidences of child abuse. The regulations are applied at the national and international levels where perpetrators of child mistreatments are punished through the rule of law. The international laws aimed at achieving zero abuse cases through the adoption of strict rules. Among the legislations adopted by some nations is a life sentence for perpetrators of rape (Berns, 2012).

Creation of job opportunities

Most parents who neglect their kids do so due to inadequate finance to support their family needs. Research indicates that children who recognize their parents’ poor financial state tend to have undesirable behaviors that may expose them to abuse (Swick & Williams, 2006). Attempts have been made to support such families through the provision of sustainable employment.

Restriction of drugs

Drug abuse is one of the leading causes of child neglect and family conflicts in most parts of the world. Most countries have prohibited the sale of certain drugs to avoid the consequences of their usage. Besides, the authorized drugs are not only sold to persons above the age of minority to prevent minors from abusing them.

The Mesosystem

The Mesosystem occurs due to the interaction between two or more Microsystems, and it largely influences the child’s development. The aspect of Mesosystem may be illustrated by a change in the environment in which the kid resides. For example, a child may join a daycare that presents a different experience from that at home. At school, the children interact with peers and the teachers as opposed to the home environment where they interact with parents and siblings. The child has to adapt to the various conflicting environments. Such adaptation may increase the risks of facing abuse.

Risk factors

Bullying in schools

One of the most significant risk factors in a Mesosystem setting is bullying. Bullying in schools has escalated in the past few decades, with most elementary and higher-level colleges recording increased cases of student harassment. When a child joins a daycare, s/he meets different people who may not care about his/her welfare. The problem is compounded by the view that students are taken as minors, and thus perpetrators of such vices are not punishable by the law. This view increases the chances of an individual being molested by his/her peers in the absence of the parents. Some teachers, too, tend to molest children physically and sexually due to their vulnerable conditions.

Low self-esteem

Children have lesser adaptation skills as compared to their adult counterparts. Thus, they tend to be resistant to changes in the environment. In this regard, they tend to have low self-esteem during the transition from one environment to the other. For example, a child may suffer from low self-esteem following a change of environment from home to school. At school, s/he is likely to meet entirely new individuals as opposed to the environment at home where every person is familiar. Low self-esteem may expose them to sexual and physical abuse, among others.

Protective factors

Acquisition of coping skills

A change in the environment presents an opportunity for the kid to interact and associate with a different set of individuals. Such interaction is beneficial as it enhances the child’s coping skills. Besides, it eliminates privacy that may be favoring abuse. For instance, in a school setting, an abused kid may open up about the incidences of abuse to peers, thus exposing the abuser. Moreover, various programs such as the Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) target professionals such as teachers; hence the kid’s abuse status may be detected in time.


The Macro-system refers to the factors that are not directly associated with the environment. Mainly, it consists of attitudes, values, and customs. Cultural beliefs shape child abuse significantly since various cultures spell different disciplinary actions against defying kids.

Risk factors

Cultural Beliefs and Values

Different communities have varying customs and beliefs that define their interaction between parents and children. In some cultures, the use of physical force to discipline kids is acceptable. In most African countries, discipline is enforced through the physical force that increases the risk of child maltreatment (Tudge et al., 2009). Social media has been identified as one of the forces that shape the cultures of different communities. This allegation is premised on the view that persons with similar cultural norms meet and interact via social media. The interaction, in turn, shapes the relationship between parents and their kids, and it may increase the cases of child abuse.

Cultural misconceptions

In most African countries, the belief is that a child emulates the parent. Therefore, presumably, a child’s ill behavior reflects that of the parent. In this case, parents tend to over-discipline their children to avoid association with undesirable characteristics. Moreover, in some cultures, women are taken to be the sole providers of their children. In such cultures, women receive little or no help from their men, thus causing them depression. Research indicates that depression contributes heavily to child physical abuse and neglect (Betancourt & Khan, 2008). Another stereotype persistent in some cultures is that a child born out of wedlock is an outcast, thus unacceptable in the community. After birth, such a child faces discrimination and neglect from society. The problem of neglect due to cultural beliefs is compounded by the fact that most countries have not enacted strict laws to restrict abuse directed to minors. In most countries, policies are heavily subject to culture. Thus, contradictory laws may not have a place in such countries.


Gender plays a crucial role in the Macro-systems since different communities view the two sexes differently. In some cultures, especially the western countries, a girl child is highly respected and taken care of by the parents to avoid early exposure to undesirable activities. In other cultures, work is divided based on gender, where girls are expected to perform household duties while boys perform other classes of jobs. In such cultures, girls are expected to perform household tasks despite their tender age. In African countries, certain communities subject their young girls to early marriages since they believe women are minors. Genital mutilation is also a common phenomenon, and it is highly acceptable to communities living in African countries. Girls who defy the ritual rites are perceived as outcasts. Thus, every woman must participate in such rituals to fit in the communities.

Protective factors

Campaigns to get rid of barbaric cultures

Various international organizations have embarked on campaigns aimed at convincing communities to abandon their controversial cultures. For example, in African countries, the campaigners have targeted practices such as early marriages and genital mutilation to shield the girl child from abuse.

Intervention programs

Positive Parenting Program (Triple P)

Disability is one of the leading causes of child abuse hence the need to launch programs to prevent exploitation of physically or mentally challenged children. The Triple P program is one of the few outfits that address children’s abuse based on disability. The program was initially launched in Australia, but it has currently spread to other countries, including the US (Algood, Hong, Gourdine, & Williams, 2011). The initiative targets teachers, healthcare providers, and other professionals who are in direct contact with parents of physically challenged children. The mentioned individuals are trained on the skills to prevent abuse of the physically challenged children, and then they are encouraged to pass the skills to parents and caregivers of such children.

Various studies concur that the program is effective in averting mistreatments among the select group of children (Bowen & Bowen, 1998). This program targets the microsystem since it aims at changing the attitude of the parents towards their children, coupled with encouraging them to view their kids as able individuals. The program is designed to cater to groups and individual families through its five sub-programs. The first level of the initiative targets the entire community by launching training sessions aimed at changing the peoples’ views regarding children together with eliminating the misconceptions about disability. The other four levels target individual families, depending on the severity of the problem. Skeptics of the program cite the emphasis placed on children with disability as a major drawback to its effectiveness as a prevention strategy.

Targeted home visitation

Under this policy, visits by nurses and informal family middle wives are encouraged during pregnancy. The initiative targets communities with elaborate cultures that may expose the unborn child to mistreatments later after birth. The program is based on the assumption that regular visits and guidance offered by the mentioned personnel leads to the increased attachment between the mother and the unborn child. The increased attachment between the two helps in reducing the chances of child maltreatment. The visitors offer guidance on the best ways to maintain the pregnancy, and they also inform parents about their parental role of bringing up the child in a secure environment. The program targets the Macro-system since it focuses on mothers of children who are susceptible to mistreatments owing to socio-cultural norms. However, the effectiveness of home visitation in preventing child abuse has ignited a heated debate among scholars. Proponents of the theory assert that the attachment created between the mother and the unborn child is necessary since it improves the mother’s attitudes and love towards the kid. On the other hand, critics assert that such an attachment may only be created between the nurse/caregiver and the kid but not the mother.

Strengthening Families (SF)

Even though the strengthening family initiative was introduced recently, statistics indicate that the program has caused a drastic fall in the number of reported cases of child abuse (Moretti, Catchpole, & Odgers, 2005). The program targets parents of young children, and its primary objective is to educate them on the children’s needs. The initiative seeks to educate parents on the developmental stages involved in child development based on Bronfenbrenner’s model of human development. SF is based on the following Microsystem child-abuse prevention strategies

  1. Parental resilience
  2. Social connections
  3. Knowledge of parenting and child development
  4. Concrete support in times of need
  5. Social and emotional competence of children

The program was originally launched in Wisconsin, but it currently has spread to other states due to its success in the mentioned nation. Sidebotham (2001) argues that training parents and caregivers on the protective factors against child abuse may lead to a drastic fall in the number of children undergoing such mistreatments.

Adult-Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) Prevention Programs

The traditional approaches to sexual abuse involved educating children on the best ways to prevent sexual abuse by adults. Such training would center on alerting the children on how to identify an adult abuser. However, in the recent past, the focus has shifted from educating children on ways to prevent such abuse to training adults on the importance of protecting the children. The programs train adults in the process of identifying risky situations together with skills helpful in recognizing abuser-warning signs (Garbarino, 2001). Besides, it encourages adults to participate in the policymaking process by sponsoring organizational and societal norms that keep children safe. The identified program targets the Macro-system, and it is premised on the assumption that the child’s interactions with the environment and the people at large highly contribute to the intensity of the vice. The program has not received much attention due to its limitation of sexual abuse. A cross-section of scholars have criticized the initiative due to its overemphasis on CSA and neglecting other forms of abuse that are equally of great relevance in the contemporary environment.


Child abuse has increased tremendously over the past few decades prompting the international community to launch a fight against the vice. Despite various countries enacting laws to end the phenomenon, cases of child abuse continue to escalate. The increase in child abuse is attributed to the inadequacy of legislation governing the issue; hence most abusers go undetected. A myriad of risk factors predisposes a child to the vice of maltreatment. This paper has classified the risk factors into three broad categories, which include Macro-system, mesosystem, and Microsystems, all of which have been discussed. Due to the increased cases of child mistreatments that have escalated in the recent past, various programs have been launched to remedy the problem. Such programs include the Positive Parenting Program (Triple P), Targeted home visitation, Strengthening Families (SF), and Adult-Child Sexual Abuse Prevention programs. The programs have been effective in reducing the vice, albeit some scholars have raised concerns about their effectiveness.


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