What is Child Abuse?
Child Abuse is non-accidental harm that occurs to an individual by a parent, caregiver or trusted adult that causes physical, emotional, or sexual harm. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect are defined accordingly by the British Columbia Government:
Physical abuse is any physical force or action that results, or could result, in injury to a child. It is stronger than what would be considered reasonable discipline.
Sexual abuse is the use of a child for sexual gratification. It includes sexual touching as well as non-touching abuse, such as making a child watch sexual acts.
Emotional abuse is a pattern of destructive behaviour or verbal attacks by an adult on a child. It can include rejecting, terrorizing, ignoring, isolating, exploiting, or corrupting a child.
Neglect is failure to provide for a child's basic needs: food, clothing, adequate shelter, supervision, and medical care. Neglect is the form of abuse most frequently reported to the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
How does child abuse affect a child?
The effects of child abuse will impact each individual differently over the course of the individual’s lifetime. Immediate effects can include physical injury and emotional and psychological problems (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)). A child who has experienced abuse is also at an increased risk of further injury, “repeated victimization, delayed brain development and reproductive health problems, involvement in sex trafficking, non-communicable diseases, and lower educational attainment.” (CDC)
According to The National Centre for Victims of Crime, short-term effects may include disturbed sleeping patterns, irregular behavior, difficulties with authority and/or specific adults, difficulties eating, and an unwillingness to participate in school or community activities. Long-term effects may present themselves in various ways, such as anxiety, insomnia, alcoholism, and/or drug abuse. Chronic abuse may lead to stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and memory and attention difficulties (CDC).
At what age is a child most likely to be sexually abused?
Though children of all ages are at risk, children are most often sexually abused between the ages of 7 and 13. In the past year alone, 1 in 7 children have experienced child abuse and/or neglect (CDC). According to Prevent Child Abuse America, approximately 60 percent of boys and 80 percent of girls are sexually abused by someone they know. Both juveniles and adults sexually abuse others. “Forty percent of reported sexual assaults against children ages six and under are attributable to juvenile abusers, as are 39 percent of reported sexual assaults against children ages 6 through 13.” (Prevent Child Abuse America).
How can I prepare my children so that they are able to repel the advances of sexual predators?
Whether you're a parent, family member, neighbor, or friend, the best way to protect a child from abuse is to have a good, open relationship with them. That means spending time with them, letting them know you care, and above all, listening to what they have to say.
- It's important that they understand that they can talk to you about anything – no matter how disturbing or uncomfortable.
- Encourage the children in your life to talk to you about their day, every day or as often as you see them.
- Teach them to tell you if an older person ever asks them to keep a secret.
- Make sure they know the difference between good touching (like a pat on the back or a quick hug for something done well) and bad touching, which is any touching that makes a child uncomfortable.
- Be sure they know it's okay to say “no” to an older person – even if that person is someone they know and trust. Because the tragic truth is, most children who are abused are victims of people they know.
Should I permit my children to be alone with adolescents and adults who are not close and trusted family members?
Keeping Children Safe
As a parent, your main concern should be the safety and well-being of your children. Leaving your child with those you do not know and trust is risky. It is important to build a healthy, trustworthy relationship in which discussion of this topic can be had with some ease. Before leaving your child with any adult or family member, consider the following:
- Does this adult pose an imminent threat to my child?
- Is this the safest option for my child?
- Has this adult or family member gone through local screening procedures for pedophiles?
- Does my child know what abuse is and what they can do if someone attempts to abuse them?
- Do I have safeguards in place, that my child can access, against abuse?
Should I permit my children to participate in sleepovers and church camps?
Sleepovers and church camps are wonderful activities that all children can participate in. As a parent, your main concern should be the safety and well-being of your children. Before allowing your children to attend either, you may want to consider the following:
- How well do you know the adults you are leaving your children with? Often family members are abusers unbeknownst to their family.
- Do your children know what physical, sexual, and emotional abuse is? Do they know what to do if a predator attempts either?
- Do your children know what a trusted adult looks and acts like?
- Do the camps you wish to send your children to have safeguards in place to protect against pedophilia (criminal record checks, staff applications, reference checks)?
How can I tell that a child is being abused?
CHILD WELFARE INFORMATION GATEWAY WEBSITE
Recognizing Signs of Abuse and Neglect
Some children may directly disclose that they have experienced abuse or neglect. The factsheet ”How to Handle Child Abuse Disclosures,” produced by the “Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe” child abuse prevention campaign, offers tips. The factsheet defines direct and indirect disclosure, as well as tips for supporting the child: Click Here.
The following signs may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect. The Child:
- Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance.
- Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention.
- Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes.
- Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen.
- Lacks adult supervision.
- Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn.
- Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home.
- Is reluctant to be around a particular person.
- Discloses maltreatment.
What should I do if I suspect that a child is being abused?
If you suspect a child is being abused, immediately report it to the local authorities. Reporting is required by law in both the United States and Canada. Both the United States and Canada have different reporting procedures in each state, province, or territory.
If a child discloses abuse to you, remember to stay calm and listen to the facts. Do not ask leading questions or put words in their mouth. Be sure to take notes and do not make any promises about concealing the information. Make it clear to them that you are legally required to share this information with local authorities.
Do I have a moral and/or legal responsibility to call child protective services or the police if I suspect that a child is in danger?
In short, YES. While both the United States and Canada have different requirements as to who is to report suspected abuse, you are legally obligated in both countries to report abuse of a minor. Both the United States and Canada have different reporting procedures in each state, province, or territory.
What should I do if my church doesn’t appear to have adequate safeguards in place for children involved in the ministries of the church?
It’s always best to talk to the elders of your church about a matter before judging it to be wrong. Many churches are in the process of putting safeguards in place to protect children, such as performing background checks on all ministry participants. Encourage the elders by telling them that they have your full support in these efforts. If, after speaking to the elders, it appears that their response to the present crisis is inadequate, encourage them to take action. Provide them with information to help them do their job more effectively.
When should I report suspected child abuse to the leaders in the church?
If you have clear evidence that a child is in danger or is being abused, call the police immediately. They alone are authorized and equipped to investigate criminal acts and prosecute offenders. Once you have notified the civil authorities, inform the elders of your church and other ministry leaders and parents related to the situation. Confidentiality of the situation is of upmost importance in regard to the safety of all those involved; however, notifying the appropriate individuals is a must.
What should I do if I believe the leaders of the church have received reports of child abuse, but apparently have dealt with the matter in-house and have not notified legal authorities?
Serving as an elder is a difficult job, especially when everyone in the church second-guesses what the elders are doing or not doing. Consequently, before judging the matter, speak with the elders. Explain to them what you have observed and your concerns. Hear them out and do your best to understand the situation from their perspective. If you still feel that their response has been inadequate, remind them that it is likely that under the law they are mandatorily required to report abuse and have a legal responsibility to call the police. If you are still unsatisfied with their response and believe that children are in danger, call the police yourself and report the matter.