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A grounded theory of child abuse



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The variety of ways in which child abuse is currently defined hampers efforts to capture the prevalence of child abuse and seriously undermines research efforts. Professionals and researchers agree that the definition of child abuse is problematic and call for a concerted effort to address the problem. The goal of this study was to contribute to our understanding of child abuse by giving voice to individuals who labeled their childhood experiences as abusive. In-depth, unstructured interviews explored their childhood experiences, and the process by which they arrived at their decision to label these experiences as abusive. The categories and properties that emerged from the analysis of these narratives were tested against the narratives of individuals who shared similar childhood experiences but who did not label their experiences as abusive. I used the principles and methods of grounded theory to guide the collection, analysis and interpretation of the data. As a result of the analysis, a theory was developed whereby child abuse is best described as a dynamic process that occurs in the interaction between a child and his or her parents as well as a child and his or her community. It is a struggle for control that begins with a parent's need for control that escalates over time into out-of-control behaviors as a child attempts to regain control through a variety of strategies that, over time, also become out of control. Stressors, both pre-existing and on-going, play a pivotal role in initiating and maintaining the child abuse process. Isolation, both social and psychological, is central to the experience of abuse and leads to the labeling of abuse. The experience of child abuse is one of being dehumanized or robbed of a sense of self. A discussion of this theory in relation to present models of abuse, the intergenerational transmission of abuse, interventions and directions forfuture research follows the presentation of the theory.



isolation, childhood abuse, model of child abuse, definition, control



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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