Abuse is not always easy to define because the offenses are of such divergent types and degrees. There are three major categories of child abuse—physical, emotional, and sexual. All are devastating to a child’s psychological and emotional well-being. Furthermore, they are not mutually exclusive. One child may be subject to two or even all three forms, and various children in an abusive family may each receive different kinds of abuse.
What Is Child Abuse?
Child abuse occurs when someone who is in a position of trust or control threatens or causes physical or emotional harm to a child. This harm may be in the form of:
• Physical abuse or neglect
• Emotional abuse
• Sexual abuse
Physical abuse occurs when an individual, in most cases an adult, causes bodily harm to a child. Child abuse in the form of neglect includes failure to provide for the basic nutritional, clothing, housing, medical, and educational needs of a child. Neglect includes leaving a child for extended periods of time without adequate supervision.
Emotional abuse is treating a child in a way that attacks his or her emotional development and sense of worth. Examples include constant faultfinding, belittling, rejection, and withholding of love, support, and guidance.
Child sexual abuse is any lewd or sexual activity between a child of any age and an adult or a significantly older youth who is in a position of power, trust, or control. It includes the sexual exploitation of a child in pornographic materials.
As government programs lose funding for resources and services society needs to remember that churches are one of the very best places to find the help needed. There are many organizations that do help, however, one of the very best resources we all have is to turn to God and allow others to serve the individual in need.
“I am glad that there is a growing public awareness of this insidious evil. The exploitation of children . . . for the satisfaction of sadistic desires is sin of the darkest hue.” Gordon B. Hinckley
Every person and institution must do their part but to be aware, in the end, strong, loving and watchful families are the best defense against child abuse. Families should talk about what child abuse is to educate themselves on how to recognize and prevent such tragedies.
Parents should draw strength from each other to cherish and protect their children by providing an environment where children can grow and develop in an atmosphere of love and support. Churches provide a gathering place for families intent on raising their children with spiritual values.
“Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
Parents can do a great deal to protect their children from sexual abuse. Parents should develop a close relationship with their children and teach them what to do to guard against any kind of abuse of any kind.
It is the role of the parents to ensure that the atmosphere in the home allows children to feel comfortable in discussing sensitive matters. Children should be encouraged to talk freely about their likes and dislikes, their friends, and their true feelings. They should feel that they can tell their parents if someone approaches them in an inappropriate manner or in a way that makes them uncomfortable.
How can we spare children this terrible ordeal? We share a sacred responsibility to protect our children. It is not enough to warn them not to take candy from strangers or not to walk alone in dark places. They need to learn other lessons to protect themselves.
1. Cultivate open communication from the time children are very young. Both you and they should feel comfortable talking about their bodies.
2. Teach children that no one—not even Daddy or Mother or brothers or sisters or other relatives—should touch us in certain ways on certain parts of the body.
3. Teach children that it is all right to say no—even to an adult. When we teach our children to obey without question, we may be teaching them to become victims.
4. Trust your feelings as a parent, and encourage your children to trust their feelings. Any time you feel uneasy about the activity between a child and another person, intervene.
5. Use the word secret carefully. Secrecy is one of the abuser’s most effective tools. You might want to use the word surprise when you speak of happy secrets. (“Don’t tell Mother. It’s a birthday surprise.”)
Helping the Victim
If abuse has occurred, parents and other concerned adults can take steps to help the child deal with the trauma.
- Face the problem when you first suspect it.
- Report abuse immediately. Look in your telephone directory under Child Protection Services, Department of Social Services, Department of Children and Family Services, or Rape Crisis Center.
- Keep the child’s best interest uppermost in mind.
- Stay calm. Discovering sexual abuse may be a shock, or it may be simply a confirmation of nagging suspicions.
- Offer emotional support to the child.
- Help the victim understand her feelings.
- Don’t blame the child because she/he did not resist.
- Seek counseling.
Family therapy may also be helpful later on, but only after individual therapy has successfully helped the family uncover and resolve the manipulative and exploitative behavior of the abuser. If family therapy is attempted prematurely, the perpetrator may use the opportunity to manipulate other family members into maintaining the victim’s role. Family therapy is always the last stage—never the first—in the treatment process.
Resource: Keeping Our Kids Safe
To contact: The National Child Abuse Hotline