Every year, thousands of families welcome a new baby into their home. The upcoming years are spent watching Disney movies, going to parks and petting zoos, buying ice cream from the truck, and finger painting with their family. Almost all those children brought into the world get to experience what it is to have a loving family, but for a small percentage, life is not so rosy. They are forced to deal with things that most of us would never imagine in our worst nightmares.
Rape. 227,080 children are sexually abused each year. Assault. 811,000 children are physically abused each year. Hatred. 97,320 children are emotionally abused each year. Neglect. 2,011,280 children are neglected each year. Murder. 60,500 children die of child abuse each and every year.
Anna Quindlen says, "amid attempts to protect elephants from ivory poachers and dolphins from tuna nets, the rights of children go remarkably unremarked." Although parents have been raising children for thousands of years, it wasn't until the early seventies that child abuse was considered a crime in America, and in 2007 it remains the least recognized and least reported crime. We need to learn how to recognize abuse so we can report it, therefore saving thousands of innocent lives.
Child abuse takes many different forms, as suggested by the statistics. This makes it difficult for people to recognize that abuse is taking place. This is a true story about a boy. Let's call him Mike. Mike is a six-year-old who is left to live with his father and stepmother when his biological mother leaves him. His parents repeatedly lock him in a hot, dark, airless closet for twenty-four or more hours at a time, chained so he can not sit down. He is forced to eat food coated with burning sauce and he is deprived of liquids. When he loses control of his bowels, his captors rub his feces in his face. The small boy's cries are either drowned out by a radio or muffled with dish soap. His crime? He was unable to sleep.
Everyone can tell that that was a clear example of child abuse, but what about this one? This is another true story of a young boy who we are going to call Timmy. Timmy's family seemed to be perfect. They spent all of their free time together, playing flag football, board games, or watching movies as a family, but Timmy was an introvert in this extroverted household. His parents would often pick him up and tickle him, a common gesture of affection, but Timmy would scream and cry for them to stop. Unfortunately they wouldn't, and encouraged his siblings to tickle him, also. When tried in court, to the surprise of many, the parents were convicted of child abuse.
Let's explore the differences in these cases of abuse. There are four main types of abuse: sexual, physical, emotional, and neglect. Sexual abuse encompasses a wide variety of things, but it boils down to any sexual contact with a child or use of a child for sexual pleasure. You may be thinking that it mainly takes place when a stranger comes up and rapes the child, but that is wrong. 85-90 percent of cases involve a perpetrator known to the child, and 35 percent involve a family member. Some behavioral indicators of a child that has been sexually abused are: the sudden reluctance to go someplace or be with someone, and using sexual words that most children of their age group would not be using, or acting with a sexual maturity not of their age group. The next form of abuse is physical abuse. This can be defined as the nonaccidental physical injury of a child (including beatings, burns, biting, strangulation, scalding, bruises, welts, broken bones, scars, or serious internal injury) or simply if the caretaker creates or allows situations in which a child is in danger. If a child avoids physical contact with others, or wears clothing to conceal their bruises and cuts, there is a chance that he or she has been physically abused. Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that attacks a child's emotional development and sense of self-worth. Pablo Casals says, "A child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn't been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him." Unfortunately, many children are subjected to name calling and harassment from people that are supposed to shield them from that type of behavior. The last form is neglect. Most people are under the false assumption that neglect isn't as serious as the other forms abuse, but in reality most victims of child abuse suffer from neglect, and it is the most frequent cause of death. Neglect is when the child is not taken care of or deprived of basic needs by their parents or guardian. This includes, not feeding the child, not bathing him, or not giving him warmth in the cold. If a child is left outside, hungry in the cold with no warm clothes, his fate is anything but good.
Now that we recognize the forms child abuse takes, we are prepared to have an awareness of child abuse in our own communities. Luckily, there is a way to prevent those horrible things from happening to the current and future generation. Bob Green says, "If you know in your heart, if you sense something is wrong, don't go away...You have to be as relentless as those children can't be. They have no voice at all. You have to follow your instinct and listen to the little voice in your head that says something is wrong, this isn't normal. Don't ignore that voice." As we found out today, child abuse isn't always life threatening, but even small things, such as tickling, can have a very profound emotional impact on a child. In Timmy's case, no drastic measures were needed to help the child. There are many hotlines and associations such as Child Help USA and Safe Child Association that can help. You simply call, and they alert social services about the problem. Social services will take action from there, whether they simply give information on how to better control the child, or, in more serious cases, taking the child from the home. However, with so many cases being called in, they aren't always correct in saying that a child is safe in their household. If the child is in immediate danger, then call 911. If social services won't act, the police will. You may be thinking that if a close friend or family member is abusing a child, you don't want to report it out of fear of losing the friendship, or you don't want your friend to be put in jail, but think about it. If the abuse continues, there is a good chance that the child will suffer long term emotional problems, or in the worst case, die. In that case, the police would get involved and the parents would be caught on a murder charge, which provides a worse sentence than one of child abuse. Also, think of the welfare of the child. How would you sleep at night knowing that an innocent child could be suffering at the hands of who are supposed to be their protectors. Take the obligation upon yourself and save a life.
You'll feel better, and the child will get to experience what it's like living in a loving, supporting family environment. Victims of child abuse often grow up convinced that they can't do anything right, and they're not worth anything. Others harness the anger and are likely to explode at some point, continuing the cycle of abuse. Both scenarios turn out badly. If the abusive behavior is corrected quickly, they may not be as affected or are able to see that they are worth something and they are capable of being loved as all children should be.
There are so many ways to help children live happy, well adjusted lives. Adoption. Last year 127,000 children were adopted after they were taken out of abused homes. To help you see how many children that really is, if you line up 127,000 pennies end to end in a straight line, it would reach over 2,000 miles long. Foster Care. 542,000 children are in foster care right now, in happier homes where they are taken care of. People may believe that foster care is a horrible system where children are worse off than in their abusive homes, but in actuality every foster parent is carefully checked out, and periodically examined, to make sure that the children are safe and being taken care of. Love. Four children, every day, are taken out of their abusive houses and put in homes where they are really, truly loved. This could not have been possible without the help of brave people that reported abuse in their community. Give those children a chance to live and have a childhood like other children do. They shouldn't be deprived of those Saturday morning cartoons and trips to the petting zoo. Personally, I'd rather see more of the good statistics than the bad, but that can only be made possible with the help of all of you. Just remember what Bill Lasko said, "It shouldn't hurt to be a child."