These two words should never go together. But they do. Every day. In every nation on earth.
From infancy until adulthood children are tied to adults almost as property. They are “ours” until grown. We are responsible for them. Let’s repeat that. We are RESPONSIBLE for them. We do not own them. They are not our property, they are our progeny. We care for them until they are able to care for themselves.
This idea of children being “ours” is one of many reasons why they become trapped in abusive homes or, for older children who “run away” from abuse become trapped in a dangerous situation outside of their home, afraid to return.
Children deserve better. They deserve love and respect throughout their lives. They also deserve the security of food, education, and a decent home. Actually, when you think about it, we all deserve these things.
Any type of abuse, whether it is physical, emotional or sexual, damages more than the body – it damages the soul. Abuse can prevent a child from forming healthy relationships, or reaching their potential academically and so much more. Fear is trauma and trauma causes untold (and sometimes unseen) damage to a person.
So who’s responsible for child abuse? The abuser, of course. Those who enable an abuser. Those who ignore abuse. Those who don’t care about the abuse.
I am. You are. We all are. Children are rarely hurt in a vacuum.
I once met Bob Keeshan, the producer, author, and actor who was known to us older folks as Captain Kangaroo. Keeshan, whose 30 year children’s television show was known for its respect for children’s feelings and intelligence, became an advocate for children in retirement.
He told me that if we saw a child was in a burning house few would hesitate to try to rescue him or her, but when a child is being abused we don’t help because we don’t want to “get involved,” or the child “belongs” to someone else. He was adamant that children don’t “belong” to us. They are independent human beings who deserve the same rights of personal safety as adults.
That stuck with me.
So what are the signs of child abuse that we should look for? The South Carolina Department of Social Services offers the following advice.
Children who are being neglected are often underweight, inappropriately dressed, have poor hygiene, are consistently hungry, lack consistent supervision, have medical or physical problems that are not taken care of and may be absent from school a great deal.
Children experiencing physical abuse may show marks from their abuse, such as cuts, burns, blisters, scratches, broken bones, sprains and dislocated joints. Infants who are not yet crawling may show bite marks, lacerations or abrasions, burns, or other unexplained marks and bruises. More than one injury in various stages of healing, unexplained absences from school. The abuse may trigger behavior issues such as aggression, withdrawal, depression, anxiety or they may demonstrate violent themes in art or fantasy.
Sexual abuse can result in a child having difficulty walking or sitting, their underclothing may be torn, stained or bloody. They may have pain, swelling or itching in their genital area, have pain during urination, or develop venereal disease. Emotionally they can become withdrawn, or even exhibit sexual behaviors unusual for their stage of development.
Emotional abuse is especially insidious, and is also extremely damaging. On its own, or in connection with physical or sexual abuse, emotional abuse injures a child’s self-worth and development into a health adult. It may be threats, rejection, dehumanizing language, ongoing criticism, shaming, humiliation, or even isolation. This type of abuse often causes speech disorders, slower physical development, hyperactive or destructive behavior, sleep issues, anxiety, anti-social behavior, and suicidal thoughts, among other affects.
It also important to realize that exposure to domestic violence puts a child at risk for many of these same damaging effects, and also can lead to the child eventually being physically and emotionally injured as well.
Of course, children are individuals and every child will react differently to abuse. That is why it is so important to pay attention to the children we come in contact with. Put yourself in their place. Save the child as if he or she is trapped in a burning building.
Intervene. A child’s life may be at stake.
To report suspected child abuse or neglect the South Carolina Department of Social Services has a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week, toll-free hotline at 1-888-CARE4US (1-888-227-3487). They will assist you in making a report and assess the information you give them. In an emergency situation, when a child faces an immediate risk of abuse that could result in death or serious harm call 911 immediately.