April is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. Every April, we have the opportunity to shed light on this very important issue, and work to create awareness of the inherent danger to children and by doing so, we hope to help prevent it in the communities around us.
As a former Prosecutor of Sex Crimes and Child Abuse cases in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, I learned early on in my career that child abuse was widespread. Our division had 8 prosecutors and we each had over 40 cases to prosecute at any given time. And that just scratched the surface of what was really happening in the community.
You see, before awareness programs like Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month, many people just did not talk about it, and the kids who came forward were often not believed or were even ostracized by family and friends. Even jury members, for example, who had heard all the evidence at trial, often had trouble believing that a parent (or even another family member) could abuse or neglect their own child (or relative).
Gratefully, some things have changed over the years, and while there are more reports of abuse and neglect, there are still children who remain silent…and worse, adults who remain silent about what they suspect.
That’s why awareness is so important – more people are coming forward, more children are being helped and more perpetrators, once the allegations are deemed to be true, are being criminally prosecuted for their horrible crimes.
And yet, it still happens every day. In the US every day, statistics indicate that four (4) children die from abuse and neglect every DAY!
How do we stop this awful epidemic? First we have to understand what Child Abuse is.
What is Child Abuse?
- Child abuse is often described as the mental, emotional, physical or sexual injury to a child;
- It can also be considered Child Abuse to fail to prevent such an injury, or to leave a child in a situation where the child continues to be at risk of harm.
- Child abuse also includes neglect. That can take the form of failing to care for a child, such as not providing a child with food, clothing, shelter and/or medical attention when needed.
How Do We Recognize Child Abuse?
Child Abuse is often difficult to predict or confirm. Every child everywhere is at risk. Child abusers exist in every sphere of financial status, and it is prevalent regardless of country of origin or culture. Gender also does not matter – perpetrators can be any gender, and so can the children who are at risk. There are no stereotypes for this sad reality. Only that children are in danger.
Years ago, “stranger danger” became a popular term. But believe it or not, it is usually someone the child knows that is the abuser. The perpetrator can be a family member, friend, teacher or stranger – too often the child is at risk by their own parent(s).
According to the Hays Caldwell Women’s Center (HCWC), in 2022, 98% of the children served at a Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in Texas KNEW their alleged perpetrator! Although definitely still a concern about who your children might encounter in a park, on the street, etc… the risk is greater with those they know and with whom they may feel comfortable.
That begs the question - how many children were served by the CAC in Texas alone in 2022? The answer is astonishing: 67,558!
First of all, look at that staggering number – almost 68,000 kids affected by abuse or neglect…. in Texas alone…in one year! And even sadder, that statistic includes only the ones that were reported.
In Hays County alone, and only in one year (2021) , over 500 children were confirmed to have been abused or neglected. And 180 of those were taken from their own homes because of the abuse and neglect they were experiencing from this own parents or guardians. Yes, it is happening right here, right now, and we cannot ignore it.
If you have reason to suspect a child is being abused, it is crucial that you report it to the proper authorities. They can investigate the situation and do what is necessary to protect the child during the investigation, and if your concern is validated, they are sworn to do whatever it takes to keep the child out of harm’s way. And you may have just saved a child’s life!
Everyone in Texas is a mandatory reporter of child abuse. Statewide intake is available 24/7: 1-800-252-5400 or www.txabusehotline.org. The phone call can be anonymous, and it could save a child’s life.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
HCWC’s 24-hour HELPline number:
(512) 396-HELP (4357) or (800) 700-HCWC (4292)