Reporting child abuse can be extremely difficult, and possibly harder if the abuse is committed by a family member or loved one. A few people may feel they do not want to go through the emotional turmoil of reporting a family member for child abuse. Or maybe you fear retaliation from the abuser, some feel “it’s none of my business”, others just don’t want to become involved. There are a few who believe the “abuse” will stop or go away and everything will work itself out.
Maybe…you’ve heard stories from others in which they were abused and they have turned out okay. In some cases you are a victim of child abuse yourself. You may be thinking, “I survived, I’m okay and they will be okay too”.
This simply is not true. Each child, each person is an individual, with different character traits and personalities from one child to the next child. Some have better coping mechanisms than others. It can depend upon the amount of support each individual received, if any.
Nearly 80% of abused children face at least one mental health challenge by age 21 (Astho.2005). This can include depression, thoughts of suicide, if not suicide, eating disorders, behavioral issues and developmental delays.
With child abuse there is trauma. Research has shown that as a result, this trauma “can cause reckless and risk-taking behavior in the child. They may have apathy and failure in school (when abuse and molestation, or sexual assault occur, so much energy is used on what is happening to them, there is no focus left for school). They begin to make poor choices. Children will display aggressive behavior, both verbally and physically toward others (American Bar Association (2004).”
Reporting Child Abuse:
Any type of abuse, physical abuse, molestation, or sexual assault can affect a child for the rest of their lives. Every child has a right to be safe from harm or abuse. It is our responsibility as adults or caregivers to insure this occurs. If it’s a friend from school or the next neighbor’s child, they need help.
You will not be able to stop the abuse on your own, even if you decide to confront your child’s abuser. The perpetrator, abuser will simply learn other ways to keep the abuse hidden from you and draw the child into further secrecy.
If you suspect child abuse you can contact Child Protective Services, or the Children Youth and Family Division in your state. You may remain anonymous. As adults, it is our duties and responsibilities (in all states it is the law for certain personnel) to report child abuse.
The most difficult decision you may ever have to make in your life is to report a spouse or family member. In most situations the abuser must be removed from the home for the child to remain safe. No child deserves to be abused and the abuser themselves, need help. It is their responsibility to do so, not your responsibility and certainly not the child’s.
Signs Your Child is Being Abused/Molested:
It is difficult to know sometimes when a child is being abused or molested as the perpetrator has probably convinced the child, “this is their secret”. No one wants to believe that a person could hurt a child in this way. It happens. As mentioned earlier, there are long-term repercussions for the child and sometimes the family.
Perpetrators, in particular have manipulated and convinced the child, they love them and care about them and only them. They share a secret now, that no one can know about because “they wouldn’t understand”. Abusers will use violence, intimidation, and threats to continue to the abuse. There are times when they will shower the children with gifts, become lenient and show little or no discipline towards the child to maintain their secrecy.
Note: Not all abuse is visible, however, there may be unexplained repeated of bruising or cuts.
- Isolation/Withdrawn: Children that are experiencing abuse will want to be alone much of the time. They are embarrassed, will feel guilt and shame or blame themselves for the abuse. “If I stay away from people, then they can’t harm me” or “if I would have not hugged them so tight” and even may believe their kindness led to the abuse or lack of.
- Bath time: Fear of the perpetrator walking in on them can make bath time a scary time for those who have been molested or sexually assaulted.
- Hygiene: A child’s rationality will be that if they don’t smell good or look good, the perpetrator will not want to be around them. They will dress poorly, groom themselves very little, if at all. Brushing their teeth, hair, bathing, no use of deodorant, perfumes, and will have little concern for their appearance.
- Distancing behavior: They will do unpleasant things to push loved ones away, no hugs from anyone, no touching, a child will fill unworthy of love, if they can make you hate them and everyone else for that matter, if you don’t love them, then you can’t hurt them.
- Clingy behavior: Some will never want to be alone. They will cling to their safety net, if they are with you, close to you all the time, the perpetrator can reach them.
- Stranger Danger: Other children will go completely in the opposite direction, they will strike up conversations or leave with anyone. They will befriend everyone. That grasp for safety becomes irrational.
- Promiscuous behavior: Dressing inappropriately, touching, hugging or intimate contact. For some, they’ve learned that if I give them what they want, then they want hurt me. Or, they have learned to use sex as a manipulation, exactly what the perpetrator has done to them.
- Anger/Aggression: Children of abuse may display unusual bouts of anger. Hitting others, bullying others, destroying property, uncontrollable rages.
- Depression: Their will be great sadness and disappointment, they have lost control of their environment and their bodies and their lives.
- Unexplained startled reaction: Children will run and hide from a person who continues to abuse them. They will jump at the slightest touch or overreact to touches or any signs of affection.
- Poor Grades or grades that begin to plummet.
Overcoming Child Abuse:
Once the abuse has been identified, particularly sexual molestation of a child, the most important thing to remember is that we, as parents, are not equipped to deal with such a situation. You must reach out for help and seek professional advice. There are others out there to help both you and the child in dealing with abuse. You cannot do it alone and can’t expect the child to do so either, they, nor you, have the knowledge and skills to work through the abuse alone.
Join a support group, speak with counselors and other parents who have gone through similar situations. Never blame the child or hold them responsible for what happened to them. The abuser, the perpetrator, harmed, abused, molested this child (and possibly other children; as not all abuse is isolated to one child), they were the adult, the child believed in their caregiver and trusted them.
Because most children are unable to protect themselves from the abuse, it is a good idea to “ask them if you may hug them, or hold their hands”. Other signs of affection towards the child, could be viewed as a threat. If someone they loved or cared for, a person they believed cared and loved for them, someone they trusted, hurt them, why would they believe that you or no one else would? We want to give them back control of their bodies and the right to say “no” to touch. They now must learn, that not all touches hurt, not everyone is going to abuse you or hurt you.
Bedtime can also be an extremely scary time for a child once abuse or molestation has occurred. No matter the age, you can leave a night light on for them. Let them know you are in the next room and available. Insure them they are safe.
Make a quiet place for them that is all their own. Where they can listen to music, read books, or draw. Try to give them a calm, quiet, environment, a space in which they can feel safe from harm.
Spend quality time with them and nurture them. There are other ways to nurture a child without touch. Touching for some has become painful or can trigger the feelings from the abuse. Cooking with them, letting them help you prepare meals, let them choose the meals. Take walks with them, do fun activities such as games, reading together, encourage social activities, (in some cases, the perpetrator/abuser has allowed little to no interaction with others as a way of maintaining control).
Allow time for them to heal…