Before they turn 18, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused, and one in three boys and one in four girls will by physically abused. Any child can become a victim of abuse. No race, ethnicity or socioeconomic demographic is immune.
Child abuse is defined as doing or failing to do something that results in harm or risk of harm to a child. There are four types of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional and neglect. While child physical abuse may be the most visible, other types of abuse leave deep and lasting emotional scars. Early intervention is key to helping abused children heal.
- Physical Abuse – Physical abuse is defined as physical injury that results in substantial harm to a child or the genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child. This could include an injury that differs from the explanation given, excluding an accident or reasonable discipline by a parent or guardian that does not expose the child to a substantial risk of harm. Physical abuse also includes the failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent an action by another person that results in substantial harm to the child.
- Sexual Abuse – Sexual abuse is sexual conduct harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare, including conduct that constitutes the offense of indecency with a child, sexual assault, or aggravated sexual assault; failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent sexual conduct harmful to a child; compelling or encouraging the child to engage in sexual conduct; and causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing the photographing, filming or depicting of the child if the person knew or should have known that the resulting photograph, film, or depiction of the child is obscene or pornographic.
- Neglect – Neglect means leaving a child in a situation where the child would be exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm and failing to arrange the necessary care for the child. It includes the demonstration of intent not to return by a parent or guardian of the child.
- Emotional Abuse – Emotional abuse means inflicting mental or emotional injury to a child and/or causing or permitting the child to be in a situation in which the child sustains a mental or emotional injury that results in an observable and material impairment of the child’s growth, development or psychological functioning.
Source: Texas State Family Code, Section 261.001
More than 90 percent of abused children are harmed by someone they know, love and trust. Perpetrators of child abuse are often trusted by the child’s family as well. A perpetrator may spend months gaining a family’s trust before acting to harm the child. While many parents and caregivers address so-called stranger danger, children are most often harmed by a loved one, caregiver, family member or friend.
Talk to your child
- Teach your children the correct names of their body parts. Do not other names for private parts.
- Identify for your child that certain parts of their bodies – those areas covered by a swim suit – are private parts. No one is allowed to see or touch them there.
- Talk to your children about safe touches, hurtful touches and private touches. Encourage them to talk to you about any touch that makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Get to know your child’s friends and their parents. Ask who will be around when your child is away from your supervision.
- Don’t frighten your child, but do let them know that they can always come to you if something happens to them. Emphasize that they will not get in trouble if they talk to you about confusing events.
- To help you get the conversation started, try reading a story with your child. Click here for a list of books.
Address responsible cyber citizenship
- Avoid the use of scare tactics. Seek to help your child develop a healthy perspective on the use of technology and an understanding of long-term consequences.
- Ask your child what websites and social networks they use regularly. Familiarize yourself with these sites and networks. Check out these conversation starters for help.
- Empower children with the knowledge that their behavior in the digital world can have a long-term impact on their safety, education and job prospects.
- Keep computers in common areas of the home. Monitor Internet and mobile usage. Take up cell phones and tablets each night.
- Establish a healthy perspective on technology usage early on in your child’s life. Set expectations for your child’s online behavior.
- Let your child know that they can always come to you if they have a confusing or frightening online experience.
Learn about child protection policies in child-serving settings
- Confirm that your faith community, day care or extracurricular activities utilize regular background checks, training and screening tools for all volunteers and staff who interact with children.
- Make sure that child-serving organizations prohibit isolated, one-on-one interactions with children.
- Follow up. Drop in unannounced to make sure safety policies are being followed in child serving organizations where your children are cared for. Ask your child about it.
Listen to your child
- Ask open-ended questions about your child’s activities. Don’t just ask if they behaved or had a good time at a party, at school or at an activity. Also find out who they interacted with and if they felt safe while they were there.
- Listen to your child if they say they are uncomfortable or don’t want to be around a certain person. Find out why by asking open-ended questions.
- Teach your child that it is okay to tell you if they are uncomfortable in a given situation or with a particular person.
- Pay attention to changes in behavior or attitude. Also be aware of regression to behaviors or previous developmental stages such as bed-wetting. A significant change like this could be a red flag of abuse.
Signs of Physical Abuse
- Unexplained changes in the child’s body or behavior or regression to earlier developmental stages
- Any injury (bruise, burn, fracture, abdominal or head injury) that cannot be explained
- Watchful and “on alert” behavior, as if the child is waiting for something bad to happen
- Shying away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home
- Appears to be afraid of adults
- Wears clothing inappropriate to the season or weather to cover injuries, i.e. long-sleeved shirts on hot days
- School failure
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches with no medical cause
Signs of Emotional Abuse
- Behavioral changes
- Speech disorders
- Substance abuse
- Developmental delays
- Lack of attachment to the parent
- Excessively withdrawn, fearful or anxious about doing something wrong
- Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, tantrums)
- Extremely passive or aggressive behavior
Signs of Sexual Abuse
- Extreme sexual behavior that seems inappropriate for the child’s age
- Sexual acting out on other children
- Genital pain, itching, swelling or bleeding, as well as a sexually transmitted disease
- Refusal to change for physical activities (e.g. P.E. class) or refusal to participate in physical activities
- Fear of being alone with adults, especially of a particular gender
- Suicide attempts
- Trouble walking or sitting
- Nightmares or bedwetting
- Sudden changes in appetite
- Fear of a particular person or family member
Signs of Neglect
- Frequently absent from school
- Theft of food or money
- Consistently poor hygiene
- Lack of appropriate clothing for weather or season
- Frequently unsupervised, left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments
- Lacks needed medical or dental care
Child Abuse and Neglect: Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse
Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect: Signs and Symptoms
If an adult suspects a child is being abused or harmed, it must be reported by the person voicing the concern. Texas law mandates that all adults report their suspicions to the child abuse hotline at 1-800-252-5400.
If you suspect a child is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
If the concern relates to possible abuse by a non-family member, first report the abuse. Then contact the family and let them know it is your duty to report your suspicions.
Who must report?
- Texas law requires anyone with knowledge of suspected child abuse or neglect to report it to the appropriate authorities. This mandatory reporting applies to all individuals and is not limited to teachers or health care professionals.
- The mandatory reporting law even extends to individuals whose personal communications may be otherwise privileged, such as attorneys, clergy members and health care professionals.
- Individuals who are licensed or certified by the state or who work for an agency or facility licensed or certified by the state and have contact with children as a result of their normal duties, such as teachers, nurses, doctors, and day-care employees, must report abuse or neglect within 48 hours.
- A person acting in GOOD FAITH who reports or assists in the investigation of a report of child abuse or neglect is immune from civil or criminal liability.
- Failure to report suspected child abuse or neglect is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine of up to $4,000.
- Merely reporting the incident to your supervisor or manager is insufficient.
How to report
- Call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400
- If the child is in immediate danger, CALL 9-1-1
- Reports of suspected abuse may also be filed using the secure reporting website at www.txabusehotline.org.
Abusers devise a thorough plan to manipulate the child and his/her family. By manipulating the child and his/her family, the abuser grooms the child and the family to gain trust. The abuser now uses his/her relationship with the family to take advantage of one-on-one time with the child. Once the victim has been groomed, it becomes difficult for a child to escape abuse or feel comfortable telling someone about the abuse. The grooming has created a sense of loyalty from the child to the abuser; in approximately 95% of abuse cases, the child knew and trusted their abuser.
Perpetrators downplay the defenses of children by explaining they were merely playing a “game”. Abuse usually begins with touching and kissing and progresses to more severe sexual activity. The perpetrator often creates names for the child’s and his/her own genitals to lessen the child’s alarm at what is happening.
Abusers manipulate children into keeping the abuse a secret. Children feel helpless to disclose the abuse, due to the fact that the abuser has told them many reasons why the child shouldn’t tell.
Some reasons why a child would not tell include:
- The abuser is a trusted friend/family member; the child thinks no one will believe him/her
- The child feels ashamed or embarrassed
- The abuser has threatened the child or the child’s family
- The abuser blames the child; the child feels responsible and doesn’t want to get in trouble
- The abuser bribes the child
- The child likes his/her abuser and doesn’t want the abuser to get in trouble
Some signs to look for in a child suffering from abuse are:
- Child acts out sexually or behaviorally
- Child develops venereal disease and infections
- Child has frequent fears, anxieties, nightmares
- Child has poor self-esteem or depression
- Adolescents may run away, commit crimes, or abuse drugs and/or alcohol
- Adolescents become withdrawn and depressed
- Adolescents are self-injurious or suicidal
It is important to note that many times children and adolescents display no symptoms (over 1/3 of confirmed cases). For this reason, it is important to do whatever you can to prevent and educate your children about abuse. Talk to your children about “welcome” and “unwelcome” touches. Empower them to say “no” and what to do in uncomfortable situations. They should know to tell you or another trusted adult if someone has made them uncomfortable. If you can’t see the symptoms of abuse, giving your child the opportunity for open dialogue can make all the difference in preventing and treating sexual abuse.
Common mental health issues that plague children include:
- Depression – Victims are 3-5 times more likely to suffer from depression.
- Damaged goods syndrome – “No one will want me now because I’ve been abused.”
- Distorted body image – eating disorders
- Low self-esteem and poor social skills
- Poor development and immaturity
- Anger and hostility
- Inability to trust
Children rarely lie about abuse. Only 2-8% of allegations are false; therefore the overwhelming majority of true allegations beg you as a parent to believe your child. Additionally, questions of a child’s credibility arise when court cases involving divorce and child custody are involved. We urge you to always believe your child and follow through with the next step of reporting.
Counseling is not necessary in all cases of abuse, but it can be very helpful for many children. Although sometimes parents feel they would like their child to just forget about what happened and move on, this may actually increase the stress on a child. When the situation is handled in a direct and sensitive way, the negative effects on the child can be reduced. With consistent attendance, most children are able to successfully complete therapy over the course of a few months.