Calling your 10-year-old daughter a whore should be recognised as a crime in the same way smacking is, a veteran police officer says.
Detective Sergeant David Beattie, of New Plymouth, is fronting a call for legislation that recognises psychological abuse as an offence.
This type of abuse was often worse than physical violence and had longer lasting implications for the victims, Beattie said.
"I have examples of a father calling his 10-year-old daughter a "little whore" for misbehaving and the F word and the C word being regularly levelled at children," he said.
"What I'm suggesting is that this is a more serious offence than smacking yet legislation does not reflect that. It's not about criminalising parents but protecting children."
As it stands using obscene and offensive language towards a child is only a criminal offence when there is a protection order in place.
"I would like to see it as an offence to use this language towards a child under the age of 14 and to summons the parent to court."
Penalties could include compulsory attendance of parenting courses, he said. "If parents have to do several of these to get the message, it's money well spent."
Beattie, a 25-year veteran of the police force and family violence prevention co-ordinator, said he had been exposed to some of the most violent crimes you could think of.
"I still think we are getting something horribly wrong in the way in which some families in New Zealand communicate with their children," he said.
"It has a big part to play in causing underlying family violence."
Clinical psychologist Heather Gifford said there was plenty of research that suggested psychological abuse had detrimental affects on its victims.
"Inside hurting is what we call it," she said. "Children need positive experiences for brain development. Even in the womb babies are affected by negative experiences their mother is going through."
Gifford, who runs a programme for children who witness family violence, said this type of abuse affected children's self-esteem and self-worth.
"They need positive experiences to reach their full potential," she said.
"People need to wake up to the fact that it can be more destructive than physical violence."
Gifford said it was easy to see that there was a real problem within the community.
"All you have to do is walk down the street and hear what parents are saying to their children to be concerned.
"Children who are treated that way can become parents who act that way. It can be perpetuated."
Beattie said verbal abuse turned into more damaging levels of psychological abuse, physical abuse and sexual violence once the power imbalance was established.
"If verbal communication is not pulled into line, it rolls into bad behaviour," he said.
"These parents need to be held accountable and need to have a good hard long look at themselves. Children are a gift, they are not put on this planet as a liability to abuse."
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- Taranaki Daily News