Child abuse is a serious, widespread problem which can affect families in many ways, and creates difficulties in the lives of victims and their families. The most common forms of abuse is sexual abuse, physical violence, neglect, and emotional abuse. Know how to identify and deal with these situations as they develop. There are many organisations willing to help. If we want to live in a decent society we owe it to ourselves to stop the cycle of child abuse.
PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM SEXUAL ABUSE
- Most child sexual abuse happens in or near the home, and is most often carried out by a person known to the child, usually a parent, relative or friend of the family.
- Potential abusers are not easy to identify. Offenders can come from all walks of life. Child molesters may also have sexual relations with people around their own age.
- Prevention and early detection is the best way of stopping the destructive effects of child abuse.
- It is rare for a child to make up allegations of sexual abuse. Children talk about sexual abuse only because they have seen it, been told about it, or have had it happen to them.
- Ongoing abuse does usually lead to long term emotional problems for the victim.
Children naturally trust adults and are taught to respect authority figures. But that trust and respect can leave them vulnerable to someone wanting to take advantage of them.
Children should be taught that not all adults are to be trusted, that children have the right to question what adults do with them, and that sometimes adults do bad things.
Child abusers will play upon the fears of their child victims. A child molested by a stranger will naturally feel physical fear and dread. When the offender is known to the child, the child may not feel physical danger. Children may still love the offender and want to spend time with them even though they do not like being abused.
Establishing good communication with your child so they feel free to discuss matters that concern them, is a vital first step towards dealing with potential child abuse.
Child sex abusers fear being caught. They are less likely to target a child who has parents actively interested in their child's welfare. Sometimes abusers threaten harm to the child and his or her family if the child tells anyone they are being abused.
OFTEN A CHILD WON'T TALK
- Talk to your child every day about their activities, feelings and concerns.
- There are books you can read to your child about personal safety from abuse. Your local library will have some.
- One of the most important lessons to teach your child is t hat no one has the right to touch his or her body. Tell your child that if anyone tries to touch them, they can say "No", and they should tell you about it. Emphasise that they don't have to give a reason or explanation for saying "No".
- Teach your child to ignore a stranger in a car who calls to him or her. Tell them not to go near a car with someone sitting in it. And that if a stranger approaches for help they should be ignored and the child should run home or to a safe house. Teach them where the safe houses are.
- Don't have secrets in your house and encourage your children to tell you about secrets that worry them.
- Your child should be taught their home phone number and another number where someone could be reached in an emergency. Show them how to dial the 111 emergency number and explain they can call this number if they need help.
- Don't leave your children alone at home.
- Tell your child to let you know if anybody starts talking to them about love or sex.
- Discussing love or sex is part of the child molester's soft approach to gain the child's confidence.
- Get to know the adults your child spends time with. Be aware of any strong bond that develops between an adult and your child, and ask yourself why an adult would be showing undue attention to your child.
- Be sensitive to any behaviour or attitude changes of your child.
Sometimes a child won't let on what is happening to him or her. They remain silent out of shame or fear. But any physical or behaviour changes will indicate that there is a problem. Some of the signs include:
- Disruptive, aggressive behaviour, withdrawal, poor school performance, running away.
- Disturbed sleep, nightmares, fear of the dark.
- Regression to infantile behaviour patterns such as thumbsucking, surprising bedwetting, excessive crying.
- Knowledge of sexual behaviour beyond their years, knowledge or unusual interest in sexual topics, acting out of sexual acts, excessive masturbation (though masturbation is normal, particularly for pre-schoolers).
- Sudden or gradual but clearly definable change in behaviour without obvious cause, and possibly, signs of physical illness, frequent washing, loss of appetite, refusal of favourite foods.
- Extreme fear of being left alone, clinging to parents, favourite pastimes no longer enjoyed, extreme fear or dislike of a particular person.
If your child displays all or any of these symptoms it does not necessarily mean they have been sexually abused. These signs may indicate other disturbances in a child's life. A sexually abused child needs support, comforting, and professional counselling. If you suspect your child has been sexually abused you should act immediately. Seek advice from the New Zealand Children and Young Persons Service of Social Welfare, the Police or counselling services available in your area.
CHILD PHYSICAL ABUSE AND NEGLECT
Every parent at some time contemplates doing something physically violent to their children.
Parents of newborn babies may be so exhausted they'll think of doing anything to keep the baby quiet. Older children may so exasperate the parent, the parent may want to violently strike the child out of sheer frustration. Such thoughts are normal. Acting on them is not. Society does not condone people violently striking or in other ways physically abusing and injuring children,whose small bodies can easily be damaged. Never shake your baby.
If you ever find yourself hitting your child so hard that it leaves marks and bruises, or your partner or anyone else is physically abusing children, seek help from the Children and Young Person's Service, the Police, your doctor, Plunket nurse, Parentline, Parenthelp, counselling agency, or Women's Refuge.
Disciplining children does not necessarily mean handing out physical punishment.
Rewarding good behaviour often works better in the long run than punishing bad behaviour. So praise your children when they are good and don't resort to violence when they are "bad". Find alternatives to hitting when you do need to punish them e.g. sending them to their room, no TV,no treats, etc.
What you do to children and with children, is more likely to be copied than any instructions you give them. Being reasonable and consistent with children will in the end get the behaviour you want. There are many books on discipline and parenting. Check at your local library. Or join an organisation where you will meet other parents such as Playcentre, Plunket, mother support groups, or Parents' Centre.
A child may be being physically abused or seriously neglected if he or she:
Other warning signs are if a parent is:
- Continually has bad bruising or injury
- Is unkempt, dirty, inadequately dressed for the climate.
- Regularly misses school, is under-nourished, and is not taken to the doctor when ill.
- Is passive, fearful, loses confidence.
- Is unsupervised for extended periods.
- Is very aggressive or destructive.
Physical abuse includes doing this to a child: belting, beating, punching, hair pulling, violent shaking, whipping, burning, throwing / pushing, kicking, suffocation, strangulation, tying up or using other cruel physical restraint.
- An alcoholic or drug user
- Subject to a violent temper unwilling to give love, affection,or continued care and supervision
- Under prolonged stress, and unable to give adequate food, clothing or home to a child.
What to do if you suspect child abuse:
If you suspect a Child is habitually being physically abused you should act immediately.
It is important to act on your concerns. Don’t leave it to somebody else or hope that it won’t happen again.
- Believe what children tell you and what you see.
- Take action to ensure the immediate safety of the child. This means contacting the police or the Children and Young Persons Service.
- Seek support for yourself.
Police and the Children and Young Persons Service work jointly to protect the child, investigate physical and sexual abuse, stop the abuse from recurring, and support families. The Police, the Children and Young Persons Service, and the Courts also try to minimise trauma for the child concerned. For example, children do not have to go to Lower Court hearings because there are optional ways of giving evidence (i.e. dosed circuit television).
Lots of information is available on child abuse, including: “Prevent Child Abuse: Guidelines for Early Childhood Education Services”, available from the Early Childhood Development Units PO Box 9951, Wellington, and "Protecting Children From Abuse", available from the Office of the Commissioner for Children. PO Box 12 537, Wellington.
The Family Planning Association Bookshops PO Box 68 245, Newton, Auckland, has a catalogue of books on the topic for adults and children.
In an emergency ... DIAL 1 1 1
Child abuse is a serious, widespread problem which can affect families in many ways, and creates difficulties in the lives of victims and their families