Noticing Child Abuse and Reporting It
By Joanne Marszal
A child may go through horrific abusive experiences throughout his or her life. These experiences can be so dramatic that a child will look and act differently There are signs that show a child is in an abusive situation. Americanspcc.org lists indicators of child abuse:
UNEXPLAINED BRUISES AND WELTS:
- On face, lips, mouth
- On torso, back, buttocks, thighs
- In various stages of healing
- Cluster, forming regular patterns
- Reflecting shape of article used to inflict (electric cord, belt buckle)
- On several different surface areas
- Regularly appear after absence, weekend or vacation
- Cigar, cigarette burns, especially on soles, palms, back or buttocks
- Immersion burns (sock-like, glove-like doughnut shaped on buttocks or genitalia)
- Patterned like electric burner, iron, etc.
- Rope burns on arms, legs, neck or torso
- To skull, nose, facial structure
- In various stages of healing
- Multiple or spiral fractures
UNEXPLAINED LACERATIONS & ABRASIONS:
- To mouth, lips, gums, eyes
- To limbs and buttocks
- To external genitalia
- Wary of adult contact
- Apprehensive when other children cry
- Frightened of parents
- Afraid to go home
- Reports injury by parents
- Consistent hunger, poor hygiene, inappropriate dress
- Consistent lack of supervision, especially in dangerous activities or long periods
- Constant fatigue or listlessness
- Unattended physical problems or medical needs
- Begging, stealing food
- Extended stays at school (early arrival and late departure)
- Constantly falling asleep in class
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Delinquency (e.g. thefts)
- States there is no caregiver
EMOTIONAL CHILD MALTREATMENT
- Habit disorders (sucking, biting, rocking, etc.)
- Conduct disorders (antisocial, destructible, etc.)
- Neurotic traits (sleep disorders, speech disorders, inhibition of play)
- Compliant, passive
- Aggressive, demanding
OVERLY ADOPTIVE BEHAVIOR:
- Inappropriately adult behavior
- Inappropriately infant behavior
SEXUAL CHILD ABUSE
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
- Pain or itching in genital area
- Bruises or bleeding in external genitalia, vaginal or anal areas
- Venereal disease, especially in pre-teen’s
- Unwilling to change for gym or participate in PE
- Withdrawn, fantasy or infantile behavior
- Bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual behavior or knowledge
- Poor peer-to-peer relationships
- Delinquent or run away
- Reports sexual assault by caregiver
Talking to an abused child about his or her situation can be difficult. Rainn.org gives tips on how to do that easily:
- Pick your time and place carefully – Choose a space where the child is comfortable or ask them where they’d like to talk. Avoid talking in front of someone who may be causing the harm.
- Be aware of your tone – If you start the conversation in a serious tone, you may scare the child, and they may be more likely to give you the answers they think you want to hear—rather than the truth. Try to make the conversation more casual. A non-threatening tone will help put the child at ease and ultimately provide you with more accurate information.
- Talk to the child directly – Ask questions that use the child’s own vocabulary, but that are a little vague. For example, “Has someone been touching you?” In this context “touching” can mean different things, but it is likely a word the child is familiar with. The child can respond with questions or comments to help you better gauge the situation like, “No one touches me except my mom at bath time,” or “You mean like the way my cousin touches me sometimes?” Understand that sexual abuse can feel good to the child, so asking if someone is “hurting” them may not bring out the information that you are looking for.
- Listen and follow up – Allow the child to talk freely. Wait for them to pause, and then follow up on points that made you feel concerned.
- Avoid judgment and blame – Avoid placing blame by using “I” questions and statements. Rather than beginning your conversation by saying, “You said something that made me worry…” consider starting your conversation with the word “I.” For example: “I am concerned because I heard you say that you are not allowed to sleep in your bed by yourself.”
- Reassure the child – Make sure that the child knows that they are not in trouble. Let them know you are simply asking questions because you are concerned about them.
- Be patient – Remember that this conversation may be very frightening for the child. Many perpetrators make threats about what will happen if someone finds out about the abuse. They may tell a child that they will be put into foster care or threaten them or their loved ones with physical violence.
- Tell the child that you’re going to talk to someone who can help. Be clear that you are not asking their permission. The child may not want you to report and may be frightened, especially if the perpetrator has threatened them or their loved ones. Remember that by reporting, you are involving authorities who will be able to keep the child safe.
- Ensure that the child is in a safe place. If you have concerns over the child’s safety, be sure to discuss them explicitly with authorities when you make the report. If you fear that the perpetrator will cause further harm to the child upon learning about the investigation, clearly communicate this to authorities.
- If you are not concerned that the parents are causing harm, you can consult with them prior to making a report to authorities.
- If you are a parent and are concerned that your partner or someone in your family may be hurting your child, this may be a very difficult time. It’s important to be there for your child, and it’s also important to take care of yourself. Learn more about being a parent to a child who has experienced sexual abuse and how to practice self-care.
- Prepare your thoughts. You will likely be asked identifying information about the child, the nature of the abuse, and your relationship with the child. While anonymous tips are always an option, identified reporting increases the likelihood of prosecuting the perpetrator.
Noticing these signs, talking about the situation and reporting the abuse can save a child’s life. Someone who reports an abusive situation may feel like a regular boring person, but in the eyes of an abused child that person is a superhero.
I live in West Palm Beach Florida and I have a Multimedia Journalism degree from Florida Atlantic University. Writing is my passion. I love helping people with information they need to know.
Authors express their own opinions which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Stop Abuse Campaign.
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