Each year more than 500,000 children in the United States are removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect through no fault of their own. They are victims of violence, or psychological or sexual abuse. Most have been neglected, and some have even been abandoned by their parents. Here we debunk eight common myths about child abuse so you can better recognize it and help stop it, one child at a time.
Myth #1: Child abuse is rare.
Abuse happens everywhere and impacts every demographic. It happens in “good” families and in “bad,” big families and small, in cities and rural communities, in homes, schools, and churches. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 1 out of 5 children will experience some form of abuse or maltreatment before their 18th birthday, and children with disabilities experience an even higher rate of abuse.
Myth #2: People abused as children become abusers.
This is only partly true. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that about 30% of adults who were abused and neglected as children will later abuse their own children. However, this “cycle of abuse” is not inevitable. While past abuse is one indicator for future abuse, it is not the only one. Some research indicates that if a child is able to disclose an incident of abuse early on and is supported by people who believe the claim is real, the child is less likely to become an adult perpetrator of abuse.
Myth #3: You can always spot a child molester.
You cannot assume someone is a child abuser just by looking at him or her. In fact, he is probably not that creepy guy down the street. More likely, abuse will be inflicted by a parent, a relative, or a child’s caregiver. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 86% of child abusers are parents or other relatives; nearly 54% are women, and 36% are between the ages of 20 and 29.
Myth #4: Children are resilient and bounce back from anything.
Children are resilient, but abuse and neglect have lasting and sometimes unidentified consequences. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, children who have had to be removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect suffer post-traumatic stress disorder at twice the rate of veterans of the first Gulf War.
Myth #5: It’s only abuse if it’s physical.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 78% of child abuse reports were due to neglect. As defined by the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, neglect is the failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child’s basic needs. Neglect may be a) failure to provide physical necessities of food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision, b) failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment, c) failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs, or d) inattention to a child’s emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs.
Myth #6: Children are usually abused by strangers.
Children are more likely to be abused by someone they know and trust rather than by a stranger. Many children are unable to tell they are being abused when someone familiar is the perpetrator. Disclosing what has happened (or is happening) to them also has a greater personal impact when it involves someone the child knows.
Myth #7: My child would speak up if he or she were being abused.
Parents should teach their children about dangerous situations and what to do in the event of one. But despite best efforts, there are a variety of reasons why children do not speak up, including having feelings of shame and fear. Not only should children be taught how to recognize if they are being abused and what to do about it, but they should also be made to feel safe and secure when reporting abuse.
Myth #8: Somebody else will probably report it.
Recurring child abuse and neglect is preventable, but someone must take that first step to end it. This year in the United States, more than 1,500 children will die as a result of abuse or neglect, and nearly 1,250 of those children will be under the age of four. Now imagine how different these children’s lives might have been if a neighbor or relative had the courage to make one simple phone call?
Every state has enacted laws detailing who must report child abuse, and 48 states have laws that list mandatory reporters of child abuse, by profession. Some of those professions include: social workers, teachers, physicians, mental health professionals, and law enforcement agents. Additionally, 18 states mandate that any adult who suspects child abuse must report it to the proper authorities.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call 1-800-4-A-CHILD, or contact your local child abuse hotline.
Pete Cerra, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)