April is Child Abuse Prevention month. This is very important. We often think because we live in Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek or Lafayette that our children are safe. This is far from the truth. Our children are at risk like any other child.
The reality is 889,000 per year are abused in the United States according to the United States Health and Human Services. This averages out to be 1 out of every 12 children in the United States are abused. This includes physical, sexual, emotional abuse and severe neglect to name a few. Every year 1,500 children die from child abuse. Children from birth to the age of 3 are at the highest risk for abuse. Children under 3 years old are 76% of the children who die every year due to child abuse (USDHHS). The statistics indicate that boys and girls are equally as likely to be a victim of abuse.
A common mistake we make is that we assume child abusers are strangers. This is a very big mistake we make. Most children are abused by adults that they know and trust and because the children have been taught to trust the abuser, they are afraid to say anything. They are afraid that people won’t believe them or be mad at them. Also it is very common the children who are abused by their parents. Often their parents are abusing drugs or alcohol or both. Therefore, most children who are being abused are in a situation where they see no way out. A child is dependent on their parents and have no choice but to suffer in quiet.
Another common mistake we make is we assume abusers are adults. Quite often the abuser is another child. Often when children are abused they turn around and abuse another child. They do this to try to restore their sense of security. Therefore, you may have a situation where an older sibling is abusing a younger sibling or a child maybe being abused by a friend who is being abused by their parents.
Another mistake we make regarding sexual abuse is that we assume girls are always the victims. This is totally wrong. Boys are abused on a regular basis. However, they are afraid to say anything because they are afraid that people will call them gay. Boys are also afraid of being blamed. Because people assume boys are strong and can defend themselves so they won’t be a victim of abuse, boys are afraid that people will think they did not fight hard enough to stop the sexual abuse or that they allowed it to occur because they liked it.
Another problem that occurs with abuse is that the family feels a sense of shame. They are afraid of how people will judge them as parents. Therefore, children who are abused pick up on the family cues not to say anything or the family decides not to say anything to avoid the possible shame. This fear of how the family will be judged allows abuse to continue. These are a few of the misconceptions that we have about child abuse and how our misconceptions allow abuse to continue. Due to this fear it is not uncommon to see a family where physical or verbal abuse has been occurring for generations.
We need to get beyond this fear and think of the children. Victims of childhood abuse are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and are more likely to commit suicide. Also as I stated before, they are more likely to abuse someone else.
We often do not think about the abuser. As I stated above, odds are they are victims of abuse too. They are not happy repeating the cycle. They want help, but they hate themselves so much they feel they cannot be helped. People putting them down only reinforces this belief. We need compassion if we are going to help.
As you can see this is a very big problem. If you feel a child is being abused or that there is abuse happening in a family, consult a professional about what to do. You don’t want to make a bad situation worse.
Dr. Michael Rubino specializes in working with abused children and their families. For more information about Dr. Rubino and his work visit his website at http://www.rcs-ca.com