It is estimated that over 695,000 children are abused across the United States every year. Child maltreatment is a problem that costs the nation over $124 billion annually and leaves countless children traumatized for the remainder of their lives. If you have any reason to suspect that a child is being maltreated, do not turn a blind eye to the situation, as your choice to speak up may in fact save the child’s life. Following are some of the best ways to prevent and to identify child abuse.
Forms of Child Abuse
The CDC has defined four different forms of child maltreatment or abuse. They are described as follows.
- Physical abuse— hitting, slapping, shoving or physically overpowering a child constitutes physical abuse. In some cases, excessive or inappropriate corporal punishment may also be considered physical abuse.
- Sexual abuse— any form of touching or groping is considered sexual abuse, along with nonconsensual intercourse.
- Emotional or verbal abuse— this form of abuse occurs when the caregiver attacks the victim verbally by berating or insulting the child in an effort to belittle or demean the victim. The abuser may also use this form of abuse to manipulate or control the child by making him or her feel inferior.
- Neglect— leaving children unattended for long periods of time or failing to provide for their physical and emotional needs can be considered neglect.
Symptoms of Child Maltreatment
Some of the short and long term symptoms and effects of child abuse can include the following.
- Fractured bones— children who are physically assaulted may appear with unexplained injuries, including broken bones. When asked about the injury, they may produce what sounds like a manufactured excuse.
- Developmental delay— mistreated children may struggle to keep up with their peers academically due to stress, depression and developmental problems linked to their abuse.
- Obesity— it is common for children who have been sexually, verbally or physically abused to suffer from eating disorders that can cause them to put on weight. Their abusers may exacerbate the condition by using their weight as something to ridicule or berate.
- Cancer— studies have shown that mistreated children are at a greater risk of suffering cancer compared with those raised in a loving home.
- Risk of alcohol or drug abuse— abused children are far more likely to turn to alcohol or recreational drugs as a means of escape. They may become alcoholics or addicts later on in life.
- Chance of becoming abusive toward their own children— it has been proven that learned abusive behaviors increase the chance that victims will one day become perpetrators as they treat their or others’ children in the same manner they were treated when growing up.
How to Prevent Child Abuse
Education is instrumental in the prevention and detection of child abuse. Parents need to be taught how to determine whether their child has been abused while in the presence of another adult— whether it be a spouse, family member, teacher or friend. They also need to know how best to confront a child abuser in a way that will ensure the safety of the child.
Teachers should be trained on how to recognize symptoms of child abuse and the proper channels to follow when reporting cases of abuse. It is often a teacher or child care worker who discovers abuse and who will alert the authorities. If you happen to notice a child is exhibiting symptoms of maltreatment, you should speak up, whether it is to alert someone in a position who can act or to call the police.
You should teach your own children at an early age that physical, emotional and sexual abuse is inappropriate and how to report when they have witnessed abuse or been assaulted. It is often someone close to the child who perpetuates the abuse, so many children remain silence out of fear people will not believe them if they come forward. To combat this fear, make certain your children understand that you will support them, protect them and investigate any accusation they make.
For more information on child maltreatment, you can visit the following resources.