The Silent Cries of Child Abuse

At five years old, Katie hears the door slam. Keys crash against the countertop. She feel her heart pounding and her mind begin to race, “Please have had a good day, please don’t be mad…” The house falls silent, then a voice filled with frustration and anger echoes down the hallway as she hears a crash in the kitchen. Katie turns off the light and jumps into bed, pretending to be asleep, hoping maybe, just maybe, he won’t turn down the hallway. Loud footsteps clomp closer and closer to her bedroom door, then stop and trail off in another direction. She hears a loud smack followed by a string of loud obscenities and muffled crying. Katie closes her eyes tightly, “Please no, not again.” The crying turns to screaming, pleading, “No! No, please! Leave her alone!” Katie’s bedroom light turns on. She is drug from her bed to face the horrors of what she had heard from behind the door.

Katie’s story is real for the more than 7.4 million children affected by some form of child abuse each year. More shocking, approximately five children die every day as a result of abuse—80 percent of those fatalities are children under the age of four.–Children’s Bureau

 

In 2017, the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services cited more than 6,000 evidenced cases of abuse or neglect in the state. Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education. In honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Canopy Children’s Solutions wants to bring awareness to this issue that is devastating the lives of children across our state and country.

80percentWhat constitutes child abuse? Under Mississippi Code Section 43-21-105, child abuse is defined as a child whose parent, guardian, custodian, or any person responsible for his or her care or support, whether or not legally obligated to do so, has caused or allowed to be caused upon the child non-accidental physical injury or other maltreatment. This does not include reasonable corporal punishment. Child abuse is more broadly characterized by six major categories by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families and Children’s Bureau: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, abandonment, and/or substance abuse.

“Understanding what constitutes abuse is important in protecting those who are often unable to protect themselves,” said Tammy Miller, South Central Region Director for Canopy Children’s Solutions, who has more than 17 years of child welfare experience. “Many times, a child will not openly tell a trusted adult they are being abused, either because they are too young to understand that these actions are inappropriate, or for fear of what the abuser will do if they find out. However, there are sometimes signs or behaviors in children that can point to an abusive history.”

Signs of abuse can include extreme aggressive and unwarranted behavior, unexplained injuries, cowering from an authoritative figure, frequent or prolonged unexcused absence from school, fear of going home, behaviors that are not age appropriate (pants wetting in school-aged adolescents, hyper sexuality in children, delays in development, etc.), and extreme weight loss or malnourishment.

If you suspect that a child has been abused, collect as much factual information as possible. Document things you have witnessed, seen or heard that make you suspect abuse with the date(s) and detailed description(s) of each occurrence (i.e. child was out of school for a week and returned with a faint bruise to his left cheek; child constantly comes to school hungry; parent yelled and called child “stupid” and “useless” over report card grades, young child seen wandering the street alone after dark). Miller advises asking the child about things you have noticed using open ended and non-leading questions while being aware the child may not be truthful. Be sure to disclose if you think he or she is hiding something. File a report by calling the Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-222-8000, or file a report online at www.reportabuse.mdcps.ms.gov. These two options will open a case with the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services (CPS) who will further investigate the claim. Only utilize these options if the situation is not an emergency. If a child appears to be in imminent danger, call 911 immediately.

“Many people shy away from reporting concerns over fear of false accusations. If the behaviors are severe enough to warrant concern, it’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Miller. “Filing a report does not necessarily mean a child will be removed from a home or that criminal charges will be pressed. In fact, CPS can often provide services to the family such as substance abuse treatment, mental health evaluations, parenting skills, and other social services that can benefit the family as a whole.”

what ifMiller also noted that fear of retaliation is another major obstacles that keeps people from reporting. Reports can be made anonymously through the 800-number.

Children are our most valuable, and yet, our most vulnerable assets. Helping protect the livelihood of children in our communities is a responsibility of all adults, whether you are a teacher, a parent at a baseball game, or a bystander in a store parking lot. Don’t let the silent cries of a child keep you from speaking up. If you suspect something, say something.

For more information about signs and types of child abuse, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway website at www.childwelfare.gov or contact your state child welfare agency.

Written by: Laura Walker, staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions

Love Shouldn’t Hurt

Rachel was dating the local high school basketball star. Ian was charming, well-liked and handsome. He showered her with gifts. He told Rachel that she made him stronger and he was a better person for having her in his life. She stopped responding to her friends’ texts and her presence faded from social gatherings. “She’s with Ian,” they’d say. 

Entering her senior year, Rachel decided not to try out for the cheerleading squad after Ian said practices and games would interfere with their time together. The two became practically inseparable. When Rachel’s friends tried to include her in “girls only” outings, Ian accused them of trying to sabotage his relationship. Rachel would comply obediently and reject the invitation. 

One Friday evening, Rachel reluctantly accepted an invitation to celebrate her best friend’s birthday. Ian had a basketball game and was agitated that Rachel agreed to attend the party without him. Despite his efforts to change her mind, Rachel went. At the end of the evening, Rachel was surprised to find Ian leaning against her car on the street. He threw an empty bottle into the nearby bushes as Rachel approached. He grabbed her and shoved her into the car. She could smell the alcohol on his breath. Ian screamed about his awful performance and fumed that it was her fault for taking his focus off the game. When Rachel tried to reason, he slapped her. Blood trickled down her lip. 

The next morning, Rachel awoke to a text message that read, “I’m so sorry. I love you.” When her mom asked Rachel what happened to her lip, she responded, “Oh, you know. I’m just clumsy. Wasn’t watching where I was going.”  

 Rachel knew Ian was sorry. He was just frustrated; it wasn’t really his fault. He cared for her. Last night was a one-time thing. They were in love. People sometimes do crazy things when they are in love.  

 

It is difficult to accept the person you love is abusing you. Many victims don’t realize they are being abused until it is too late—seemingly perfect relationships progressively turn life-threatening, resulting in approximately 6 domestic violence deaths per day in the U.S. 

 The National Youth Risk Survey indicates 1 in 3 U.S. teens will experience dating violence. Dating violence can come in many forms including physical harm, emotional abuse, sexual assault and stalking. Abusive relationships are rarely apparent in the beginning. After months or years of building what seems like the perfect relationship, an abuser will assert power, holding his or her partner in a psychological trap making them believe what is happening is the victim’s fault.  

 Dating violence can happen to anyone—male, female, young, old, every race, socioeconomic status, educational status. Knowing the warning signs may help you identify a friend or loved one victimized by dating abuse:  

  • Intense mood swings 
  • Loss of interests 
  • Withdrawal from friends and family 
  • Signs of physical harm 
  • Drug use 
  • Unexplainable fear 
  • Sexual activity 
  • Inability to make decisions without partner’s consent 

You may also observe red flags in a partner that can indicate abuse is occurring: aggressive or controlling behavior, paranoia, verbal put-downs, insisting on unprotected sexual contact, isolating or threatening behavior, monitoring technology use, unwillingness to spend time apart, stalking, interests in violence, and jealousy. Many abusers learn these behaviors from abuse as a child. 

 One of the leading questions for people involved in abusive relationships is, “Why didn’t they just leave?” It’s not always so simple. Many victims want to believe they can do something to fix the relationship. Some may fear their partner will hurt them or their loved ones if they leave. Separation from their support system may leave victims feeling they have nowhere to go. Two-thirds of dating abuse victims remain silent about their abuse often because of fear, guilt or shame. 

 If you or someone you know is experiencing dating abuse, speak up. Resources such as loveisrespect.org or contacting the Mississippi Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1.800.898.3234 can help you navigate difficult situations. Your voice is your most powerful tool—tell the police, neighbors, friends, family, teachers, even strangers until you get help. Love shouldn’t hurt. Help end teen dating violence. 

Contributed by Laura Walker, staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions.

This was a featured article in the March-April 2018 Issue of Parents and Kids Magazine-Desoto County.