I was recently profoundly affected by heartbreaking story about a 3-year-old boy in Pennsylvania named Scott McMillan who was horrifically abused and ultimately murdered earlier this month (Click here for full story). After reading this story I was inundated with questions – Didn’t the neighbors hear it? Why didn’t anyone intervene? Could this have been prevented? What is going to happen to the siblings who survived?
While I do not know the answers to these questions, I DO know that we tend to live in a world where it we don’t get involved with other people’s children. Specializing in survivors of trauma (both child and adult), I have seen a multitude of children who are victims of abuse, as well as, adult survivors of childhood abuse and many times – people knew and no one did anything. With this blog I would like to challenge you to stick up for the children who cannot, be the voice of a child when you suspect something may be wrong. Better be safe then sorry right?
What is Child Abuse?
A fellow therapist once explained a definition of child abuse that I try to keep in mind, even today. While I can go into the varying types of abuse, the legal line that is crossed etcetera, I have found this one to be the most encompassing of how sensitive children and their young nervous systems are.
A (not THE) definition of child abuse is – unnecessarily raising the adrenaline levels of a child. While this is not the definition that the legal system goes by and you would not be arrested for momentarily losing your temper and yelling, I find that it makes me think and consider what I say before speaking to a child – even when I am angry, frustrated or tired.
An amazing organization that helps children who are and have been abused is called Child Help (to learn more about their extraordinary work click here), they define child abuse as:
a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child. There are many forms of child maltreatment, including neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, and emotional abuse.
More than 3 million reports of child abuse are made every year
According to Child help:
- 28.3% of adults report being physically abused as a child.
- 20.7% of adults report being sexually abused as a child.
- 10.6% of adults report being emotionally abused as a child.
In Texas the Children Advocacy Centers of Texas report:
- Today, 185 Texas children will be victims of abuse.
- In one year, more than 65,000 cases of child abuse were confirmed in Texas.
- 1 in 4 Girls is sexually abused before her 18th birthday.
- 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before his 18th birthday
Those statistics only encompass those cases that have actually been reported. We know there are thousands and thousands of cases that go unreported all over the world every day!
What Can I Do?
TALK ABOUT IT! The best thing you can do is be an advocate be a voice for these children who are left alone to deal with these atrocities all on their own and are made to grown up full of shame, guilt and a belief that they are innately bad. NO ONE should have to live with abuse and children are the most ill-equipped, most vulnerable and, sadly, the most easily accessible. The secrecy surrounding this issue needs to be eradicated, if no one talks about it – nothing can be done about it.
EDUCATE PEOPLE! The more people know about what abuse is, the less likely they are to partake in it and the more likely they are to report it. Parents can educate others and themselves in positive discipline techniques, everyone can be educated on the signs of abuse, children can be taught to recognize when they are in an abusive situation and where to go for help .
REPORT IT! When the life and well-being of a child is at risk “minding your own business” NEEDS to go out the window. Children should not be left alone to handle the pain inflicted on them by the very same people who are supposed to take care of them. When abuse gets overlooked or ignored that is when we end up with cases like poor Scott McMillan, as we well as, the countless individuals who walk into my office as adults, STILL profoundly affected by the abuse they suffered as child.
GET HELP! If you have been abused please remember it is not your fault and you should not be left to deal with it alone. There is help out there! The more you talk about it the less you will have to carry all on your own.
What are the signs of child abuse?
The Children Advocacy Center of Texas has provided the following list:
What to look for:
- Unexplained injuries
- Changes in emotional behavior
- Returning to less mature/younger behaviors
- Fear of going home
- Changes in eating
- Changes to sleep patterns
- Changes in school performance or attendance
- Lack of personal care in hygiene
- Risk-taking behaviors
- Inappropriate sexual behaviors
These kids are ALL of our responsibility. These children will grow up to be future of our world, lets take care of them. If we all work together to eradicate child abuse, we can all look forward to a much better tomorrow!
Who to contact:
ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453)
The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233
For a more complete list of resources and hotlines click here