Silence as the Language and Landscape of Abuse

  • Donna GilbreathEmail author
Reference work entry


Child abuse spans the depths of human history and traverses the myriad landscapes across the globe. It happens at all scales, from an individual home to the international realm where trafficking crosses country borders. Child abuse is marked by a common language – silence – because when children (or adults for that matter) are confined to an abusive situation, they are compelled by their abuser and societal norms, as well as by feelings of guilt and shame, to carry the burden of their abuse alone. As represented by two very similar cases that share the same circumstances across time, the silence of child abuse in the past is linked with the same silence in the present day. To illustrate the ubiquity of child abuse across space, the author identifies and maps places where child abuse often occurs at the neighborhood level and at the international level, presenting conceptual landscapes of abuse. The next section focuses on deconstructing a few thought processes of an abused child, presenting ideas as to how those thoughts might shape an abused child’s internal dialogue. Finally, the chapter considers how the impact of an abused child’s internal dialogue might skew the child’s mental reality as he or she becomes an adult. Unlike most clinical, scientific, or academic publications, this chapter does not delve into statistics about abuse or focus on key points from seminal works on the subject. Rather, this chapter’s contribution to the topic is that it exposes some silences surrounding abuse and gives insight into the internal dialogue experienced by a child abused through the lens of one woman’s real-life experience. Be warned: It is not pretty.


Thoughts Internal dialogue Nonverbal language Fear Abuse Unspoken Silences Conceptual mapping Child abuse prevention 


  1. Afifi, T., Boman, J., Fleisher, W., & Sareen, J. (2009). The relationship between child abuse, parental divorce, and lifetime mental disorders and suicidality in a nationally representative adult sample. Child Abuse & Neglect, 33, 139–147. Accessed 24 September 2018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2014). Sexual abuse. No. 9. In case of both physical and emotional trauma, the immediate impact is immediately felt. However, it can also result in lasting lifelong physical and psychological trauma).
  3. American Society for the Positive Care of Children. (2018). Child abuse statistics in the U.S. Accessed 24 Sept 2018.
  4. Brechenmacher, S. (2018). Tackling Women’s underrepresentation in U.S. politics: Comparative perspectives from Europe. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Accessed 14 Sept 2018.
  5. Briere, J. N., & Elliott, D. M. (1994). Immediate and long-term impacts of child sexual abuse. The Future of Children, 4, 54–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bromfield, L. M., Gillingham, P., & Higgins, D. J. (2007). Cumulative harm and chronic child maltreatment. Developing Practice: The Child Youth and Family Work Journal, 19(Winter/Spring), 34–42.Google Scholar
  7. Brunn, S. D., & Wilson, M. W. (2013). Cape Town’s million plus black township of Khayelitsha: Terrae incognitae and the geographies and cartographies of silence. Habitat International, 30, 1–11.Google Scholar
  8. Castro, J. (2013). Earliest case of child abuse discovered in Egyptian cemetery. LiveScience, May 28. Accessed 15 Sept 2018.
  9. Child Family Community Australia Resource Sheet. (2014). Effects of child abuse and neglect for adult survivors. January. Accessed 24 Sept 2018.
  10. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Definitions of child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. Accessed 24 Sept 2018.
  11. Children’s Bureau. (2010). Definitions of child abuse and neglect in federal law. Accessed 14 Sept 2018.
  12. Cook, G. P. (1985). Khayelitsha e policy change or crisis response? Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 11, 57e66.Google Scholar
  13. Ebbe, O. N. I., & Das, D. K. (Eds.) (2009). Conclusion. In: Abuse of women and children: An international perspective. Boca Raton: CRC Press/Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
  14. Havens, E. (2017). Brandy Jaynes sentenced to up to 45 years in prison. The Spectrum and Daily News. August 28 edition. Accessed 24 Sept 2018.
  15. HAVOCA (Help for Adult Victims of Child Abuse). (2014). Accessed 29 Sept 2014.
  16. Human Rights Watch. (2013). Breaking the silence: Child sexual abuse in India. New York: Human Rights Watch. Accessed 29 Sept 2018.
  17. Hyndman, J. (2014). Woman power: All-female police Guard Filipino Refugee Camps. Interview with NBC news. Accessed 2 Oct 2018.
  18. Jang, M. (2015). A Roma education. Harvard Political Review, Feb. 11. Accessed 14 Sept 2018.
  19. Jantz, G. L. (2018). Cognitive healing from childhood abuse. Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers. Accessed 29 Sept 2018.
  20. Krug E. G., Dahlberg, L. L., Mercy, J. A., Zwi, A. B., & Lozano, R. (2002). World report on violence and health. Geneva: World Health Organization. Accessed 24 Sept 2018.
  21. LACASA. (2018). Why children don’t tell. Accessed 25 Sept 2018.
  22. Markel, H. (2009, December 14). Case shined first light on abuse of children. The New York Times. Accessed 14 Sept 2018.
  23. Markel, H. (2016). Neglected. Milbank Q, 94(4), 699–703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Martin, L., & Hite, V. (2014). How do you affect your child? Developmental Psychology at Vanderbilt. Accessed 24 Sept 2018.
  25. Martyres, G. (2009). On silence: A language for emotional experience. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 29(1), 118–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Office for Victims of Crime Training and Technical Assistance Center. (2012). Child abuse and neglect. Accessed 9 Sept 2018.
  27. Pinheiro, P. S. (2006). World report on violence against children: United Nations Secretary-General’s Study. Geneva: United Nations. Accessed 24 Sept 2018.
  28. RAINN. (2015). Survivors of child sexual abuse break the silence on TLC. Accessed 24 Sept 2018.
  29. Skene Foundation for Human Development through Arts and Culture. (2018). Let’s help stop child abuse epidemic in Costa Rica. Accessed 2 Oct 2018.
  30. Swietek, A., Brunn, S. D., & Wójtowicz, B. (2019). Identifying and removing the silences of Roma culture in polish school texts. Journal of Geography, 185(4), 169–184.Google Scholar
  31. Tracy, N. (2018). Types of child abuse. HealthyPlace. Accessed 9 Sept 2018.
  32. Trafficking in Persons Report. (2017). Accessed 24 Sept 2018.
  33. Trafficking in Persons Report. (2018). U.S. Department of State. Accessed 24 Sept 2018.
  34. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2015). PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Accessed 9 Sept 2018.
  35. Wheeler, S. M., Williams, L., Beauchesne, P., & Dupras, T. L. (2013). Shattered lives and broken childhoods: Evidence of physical child abuse in Egypt. International Journal of Paleopathology, 3, 71–82. Scholar
  36. WHO (World Health Organization). (2018). Violence against children factsheet. Accessed 2 Oct 2018.
  37. Wright, J. K. (1947). Terrae incognitae: The place of the imagination in geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 37, 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Map Sources

    Sources for Figure 5: Efforts to Combat Child Abuse Map

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Handbook of the Changing World Language Map projectUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations