If You Know or Suspect a Child is Being Abused
If you know or suspect that a child is being abused, you should always take it seriously. A good rule of thumb is to assume a “false positive”- in other words, assume that abuse is occurring if you have suspicions, and respond accordingly.
What to Say
- If a child even hints in a vague way that sexual abuse has occurred, encourage him or her to talk freely. Don’t make judgmental comments.
- Show that you understand and take seriously what the child is saying. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have found that children who are listened to and understood do much better than those who are not. The response to the disclosure of sexual abuse is critical to the child’s ability to resolve and heal the trauma of sexual abuse.
- Assure the child that they did the right thing in telling. A child who is close to the abuser may feel guilty about revealing the secret. The child may feel frightened if the abuser has threatened to harm the child or other family members as punishment for telling the secret.
- Tell the child that he or she is not to blame for the sexual abuse. Most children in attempting to make sense out of the abuse will believe that somehow they caused it or may even view it as a form of punishment for imagined or real wrongdoings.
- Finally, offer the child protection, and promise that you will promptly take steps to see that the abuse stops.
What to Do
- Report any suspicion of child abuse. If the abuse is within the family, report it to the local Child Protection Agency. If the abuse is outside of the family, report it to the police or district attorney’s office. Individuals reporting in good faith are immune from prosecution. The agency receiving the report will conduct an evaluation and will take action to protect the child.
- Parents should consult with their pediatrician or family physician, who may refer them to a physician who specializes in evaluating and treating sexual abuse. The examining doctor will evaluate the child’s condition and treat any physical problem related to the abuse, gather evidence to help protect the child, and reassure the child that he or she is all right.
- Children who have been sexually abused should have an evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional to find out how the sexual abuse has affected them, and to determine whether ongoing professional help is necessary for the child to deal with the trauma of the abuse. The child and adolescent psychiatrist can also provide support to other family members who may be upset by the abuse.
- While most allegations of sexual abuse made by children are true, some false accusations may arise in custody disputes and in other situations. Occasionally, the court will ask a child and adolescent psychiatrist to help determine whether the child is telling the truth, or whether it will hurt the child to speak in court about the abuse.
- When a child is asked to testify, special considerations–such as videotaping, frequent breaks, exclusion of spectators, and the option not to look at the accused–make the experience much less stressful.
- Adults, because of their maturity and knowledge, are always the ones to blame when they abuse children. The abused children should never be blamed.
- When a child tells someone about sexual abuse, a supportive, caring response is the first step in getting help for the child and reestablishing their trust in adults.
Making a Report
Reporting Child Abuse can be difficult. The abuser may be someone you know-a friend, a neighbor, or even a member of your own family. Many people who know or suspect that someone close to them is sexually abusing a child may have a hard time believing it- the person may not seem capable of such a horrible act.
It is important to remember that most child abusers seem perfectly normal. They come from all different backgrounds and walks of life. Most sexual abusers are married and have children of their own. In fact, the majority of sexual abuse actually takes place within the family.
You may also be afraid of making an allegation against someone that turns out to be false. It is important to know that false allegations of sexual abuse are very easily disproven. While there was a wave of very high-profile false allegations in the 1980′s, investigative techniques have improved considerably over the past few decades, and the rate of wrongful convictions for sexual abuse is among the lowest of any crime. If you are afraid of getting into trouble for filing a false report, rest assured that as long as you make a report in good faith, you will not face any kind of legal trouble.
Bottom line-you should always err on the side of protecting the child.
Legal Requirements for Reporting
To find out the requirements for reporting for your state, please check www.childwelfare.gov or call ChildHelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453. While there are laws in every state that require certain professionals who work with children (i.e. teachers, nurses, daycare providers) some states mandate that ANY adult who suspects a child is being abuse report their suspicions to the proper agency.
TREE Climbers believes that all adults should consider themselves mandatory reporters, and have a moral obligation to protect vulnerable children.
Agencies That Handle Reports of Child Abuse
Two agencies handle most reports of child abuse:
- Child Protective Services (in some states this agency has a different name)-This agency investigates child abuse that occurs within the home
- Law Enforcement- Most law enforcement agencies have specialized units that deal with child abuse, and sexual abuse in particular. Law enforcement should be contacted if you suspect abuse outside of a child’s home.
To find out where to make a report in your state, go to the Child Welfare Information Gateway website ,or call the ChildHelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-422-4453. Depending on what state you live in, you may contact either child protective services or the police.
Remember that the most important thing is to call! When in doubt, call your local police station, and they will be able to direct you to the right agency.
If the legal system does not provide adequate protection for a child, contact Justice for Children at (713) 225-4357 or www.jfcadvocacy.org.
Reporting Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (Including suspected Child Pornography)
If you find pornographic material that you suspect may be of a child under the age of 18, or if you suspect that a minor may be engaging in prostitution, you may file a report anonymously to the CyberTipline.
You will NOT get in any legal trouble, as long as you did not willingly send or receive the images.
You may also report child pornographyi or child sexual exploitation directly to your local law enforcement or police department.
For more information on Child Pornography and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children