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It is virtually impossible to go through a day without hearing about or seeing signs of emotional and physical abuse of children—they are injustices that cross racial, class, religious, and ethnic lines with abandon. During the past quarter century, there has been heightened awareness of the prevalence and devastating consequences of child abuse. What is less well known is how children cope with it. A combination of commendable attempts to protect children's rights to privacy and confidentiality and the less commendable tendency to listen to adults far longer and more carefully than to children keep us from knowing how children cope with abuse. I have found myself studying the faces of children who have been physically or emotionally injured. I search the newspaper photograph and the television screen for a look, a gaze, or an expression that signals that the child will survive — will find the words, the love, and the tender support a child needs to grow up healthy and strong.

The life-history interviews I conducted reveal myriad ways that girls try to protect themselves from abuse. Many eating problems begin as a search for refuge from physical abuse (kicking, slapping, punching, strangling, beating with an object) or emotional abuse (verbal insults and accusations, denial of reassurances of being loved and wanted, neglect of basic needs for food and physical touch). All of the women I interviewed who were physically or emotionally abused endured abuse for a period of years; often it lasted through an entire childhood and adolescence. Abuse was inflicted by adult caretakers — one or both parents, sometimes in combination with other relatives — and had significant long-term psychological consequences.

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