What exactly is emotional abuse?
The proposal to consider making emotional abuse a criminal offence is probably a good idea. It’s always existed in child protection matters as an ‘add on’ as any child who’s been subject to physical, sexual abuse or neglect has to have been effected by emotional abuse as well. This has always been cited as a civil offence but never criminal. The devil will be in the detail, but I do think that children who are made to witness domestic violence on a regular basis or who are constantly told that they’re not loved or wanted would make up a significant group of people who are clearly subject to emotional abuse.
Often we hear of parents saying that they are ‘withdrawing love from a child’ – which to my mind is as damaging as any other form of abuse.
In cases where there are custody battles, one or both parents will often fill the child with hateful stories about the other parent. So the child is thoroughly confused, terrified or indoctrinated in a malicious way.
This is emotional abuse in my view.
Where we have to be careful is where a parent neglects to provide a child with basic care, age appropriate activity or any real guidance due to the fact that they have not got the capacity or prenting skills themselves. This neglect by omission is not a deliberate act, it has to be very clearly identified outside of the criminal framework.
Action for Children’s recent report into emotional abuse talks of the ‘Cinderella law’ being needed. Citing similar examples to the ones above. I would welcome this, but urge people not to rush into legislation without thoughtful preparation.
When clarification has been reached as to how much rejection, how much chronic belittling, how much violence (verbal or physical) has been witnessed, then perhaps we can have some degree of certainty for professionals working in the field. I think this will be a good law but very difficult to put into place until there have been test cases put through the courts.
I’m never normally somebody who would advocate more law to deal with human failings. However we do have a duty for the vulnerable and have clearly recognised that emotional abuse in extreme cases is as insidiously damaging as any other form of abuse.