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Recognizing And Preventing Abuse

This section is for lists to assist in the awareness process: signs of abuse and what you can do to prevent it.

Building a Safety Net for Abused Children

If you have called Child Protective Services about possible child abuse but nothing has happened, Prevent Child Abuse America reminds you that child protective service agencies - most of which are under-funded and over-burdened - exist to prevent imminent harm to a child. They are unlikely to have the resources to intervene except in the most severe cases.

But, there are other things you can do to help build a safety net of support and care around an abused or neglected child and his or her family:

Contact the Child's School Counselor.
Teachers and counselors see children on a regular basis and are in a good position to reach out to an abused or neglected child. Call the child's school counselor and tell them of your concerns. Ask them to pay close attention to the child and to be alert for some of the warning signs of abuse or neglect.

Call the family's faith community.
Contact the leaders of the family's faith community to let them know of your concern for the child. Ask them to reach out to the family and offer support and assistance.
Adopt a Child Protective Service Worker. Most CPS agencies are severely under-staffed and over-worked.

Get your school district or faith community to "adopt" a CPS worker.
Arrange for donations of food or used clothing, furniture or toys on behalf of the families served by the CPS worker. Find out what they need in terms of financial resources and support, and hold car-washes, bake and yard sales, etc., to help.

Be a Good Neighbor.
Offer to baby-sit for the parents, to give them a chance to relax and unwind. Be kind and supportive to the children in your neighborhood, especially to those you think might be abused or neglected at home.

If a Child is in Imminent Danger, Call the Police.
Be alert to the warning signs of abuse or neglect, particularly to unexplained or frequent injuries or bruises. If you suspect a child is in danger, call the police immediately.

Stopping Child Abuse in Public
When you see child abuse or a parent losing patience with a youngster in a public place, there are several things you can do to help stop it. Prevent Child Abuse America offers these suggestions:

Start a conversation with the adult to direct attention away from the child.
For example: "She seems to be trying your patience."
"My child sometimes gets upset like that, too."
"Children can really wear you out sometimes. Is there anything I can do to help?"

Divert the child's attention if he or she is misbehaving by talking to the child.
For example: "That's a great baseball cap. Are you a Sox fan?"
"I like your T-shirt. Did you get that on vacation?"

Look for an opportunity to praise the parent or child.
For example: "She has the most beautiful eyes."
"That's a very pretty shirt on your little boy. Where did you get it?"

If the child is in danger, offer assistance.
For example: If the child is left unattended in a grocery cart, stand near the child until the parent returns.

Avoid negative remarks or looks.
Negative reactions are likely to increase the parent's stress or anger, and could make matters worse for the child.

What Can You Do? The Five Rs

What can you do to help prevent child abuse and neglect in your community? Prevent Child Abuse America makes these recommendations, which they call the Five Rs:

Raise the Issue
Call or write your candidates and elected officials asking them to support increased funding for child abuse prevention, intervention and treatment programs. Ask them to support One Percent to Prevent, which calls for spending one percent of our budget surplus on child abuse prevention programs. Contact your local school district and faith community to encourage them to sponsor classes and support programs for new parents.

Reach Out to Kids and Parents in Your Community
Anything you do to support kids and parents in your family and extended community helps to reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. Be a good neighbor. Offer to baby-sit. Donate your used children's clothing, furniture and toys for use by another family. Be kind and supportive, particularly to new parents and children.

Remember the Risk Factors

Child abuse and neglect occur in all segments of our society, but the risk factors are greater in families where parents . . .

...abuse alcohol or drugs
...are isolated from their families or communities
...have difficulty controlling their anger or stress
...appear uninterested in the care, nourishment or safety of their children
...seem to be having serious economic, housing or personal problems.

Recognize the Warning Signs
Some of the warning signs that a child might be abused or neglected:

*Nervousness around adults
*Aggression toward adults or other children
*Inability to stay awake or to concentrate for extended periods
*Sudden, dramatic changes in personality or activities
*Unnatural interest in sex
*Frequent or unexplained bruises or injuries
*Low self-esteem
*Poor hygiene

Report Suspected Abuse or Neglect
If you suspect abuse or neglect is occurring, report it - and keep reporting it - until something is done. Contact one or more of the following:

Child protective services for contacts in your state.
Police Department.

Child Abuse and Neglect: The Facts

Prevent Child Abuse America has gathered some sobering facts about child abuse and neglect in America, of which child sexual abuse is only part.

*An estimated 3,244,000 children were reported to child protective service agencies as alleged victims of child abuse or neglect in 1999. Approximately 1 million of these reports were confirmed.

*Approximately three children died each day in the United States from abuse or neglect in 1999. Over the past five years, this number has risen approximately 11 percent.

*Forty-six out of 1,000 children were reported as abused or neglected and 15 children out of 1,000 were confirmed as abused or neglected in 1999.

*Reports of child abuse and neglect grew 33 percent in the 1990s, with 18 percent in the first half and four percent in the latter half of the decade. Reports of abuse and neglect were up 1.6 percent from 1998 to 1999.

*Fifty-one percent of the reported cases in 1999 involved neglect, while 26 percent involved physical abuse, 10 percent involved sexual abuse, 4 percent involved emotional abuse and 9 percent were related to other forms of child maltreatment.

*It is estimated that the U.S. spends $258 million each day as a direct or indirect result of child abuse and neglect, nearly $94 billion per year. The annual costs are equivalent to $1,461.66 per American family.

*One-half of all Americans believe child abuse and neglect is the most important public health issue facing this country, compared to other public health issues like drug and alcohol abuse, heart disease, cancer and HIV/AIDS.

*The federal government invests approximately $4,500 in research for every American with cancer or HIV/AIDS, but only $10 in prevention research for every reported case of child abuse and neglect.

Signs of Sexual Abuse
by Elise Ritter, L.C.S.W.

Many people think that sexual abuse is limited to an adult having non-consensual sex with a child. This is indeed sexual abuse - but there is a broader definition.

Sexual abuse happens when a child is in any way tricked, manipulated or forced into sexual behavior or contact by someone who has more power, control or knowledge, regardless of consent. It can happen with or without physical contact.

Children tell us that they have been sexually abused by verbal, emotional, sexual or physical means, or any combination thereof.

Verbal Indicators
When children report that sexual abuse has happened to them, they are usually telling the truth.
Children rarely lie about this subject.

Your child may not tell the whole story, but may instead put out "feelers" (such as "my uncle wears funny underwear") to see how you'll react.

Emotional Signs
Depression. Is your child feeling hopeless, sad, worthless? Is she crying often? Has she gained or lost a lot of weight? Have her eating or sleeping habits changed dramatically? Is she feeling excessively fatigued? Does she have a hard time focusing on a subject?

Is your child refusing to be left alone with a particular person? Is he avoiding a particular family member, adult friend or activity he once enjoyed? Is he fearful, nervous, "on edge"?

Is your child "spacing out," and losing her grip with reality? Dissociation is a survival tactic frequently used during the actual abusive act, during which the victim pretends to be somewhere else, and thus puts her "real" self out of reach of the perpetrator. "You can touch my body, but you can't touch my soul," said one survivor.

Acting out.
Is your child showing excessive hostility and anger? Have his grades gotten worse? Do his teachers complain about his behavior? Has he changed friends, and is he now hanging out with troublemakers?
Self-destructive behavior. Has she intentionally cut or bruised herself? Has she talked about killing herself, or has she romanticized the idea of suicide?

Use of alcohol and/or drugs. Some children may use these substances as a way of forgetting, or blocking out, the abuse.

Eating disorders. If your child feels that her world has become uncontrollable and unsafe because of sexual abuse, she may think one of the few things she can control is the amount of food she eats. She may develop abnormal patterns of eating such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Be on guard if your child eats excessive amounts of food, too little food, and/or vomits food after meals.

Regressive behavior.
Particularly in younger children, nightmares and bed-wetting can resume, as well as regressing into a more juvenile stage of development.

Sexual Signs
Sexual acting out. Does your child display behavior, knowledge or interest about sex that is beyond the age-appropriate level?

Promiscuity. If your child was introduced to sexually stimulating behavior at a too-early age, he may mistakenly feel that this is an important part of his identity, or feel that he is "damaged goods," and may become promiscuous or may masturbate excessively.

Sexually abusing a younger child.
Sadly, some children may act out on another child what was done to them.

Absence or denial of one's sexuality. If your child is older/If your child has been abused, she may deny any sexual feelings as a way of forgetting the abuse. Adult and adolescent survivors of abuse often suffer from an intense fear of intimacy when it comes to romantic relationships.

Physical Signs
(typically determined by a physician)

*Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
*Vaginal injury and/or scarring.
*Injury to your child's genitals.
*Injury to your child's anal opening, sphincter or canal.
*Injury to your child's mouth.
*Chronic urinary tract irritation or infections.
*Yeast infections.
*Odors (such as yeast or semen).
*Inability to control bowel movements.
*Difficulty sitting or walking.