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The growing child abuse problem in America

April 22, 2015

Although April is the month when America urges everyone to help prevent all forms of child abuse, we should run this campaign on a daily basis throughout each year. Even the National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence has said, “Child abuse and neglect is a national problem which has increased to epidemic proportions.”

What behavior constitutes child abuse?

It’s defined as “any behavior directed toward a child by a parent, guardian, care giver, other family member, or other adult, that endangers or impairs a child’s physical or emotional health and development.” These damaging behaviors usually take the form of “physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect.” Although each type of abuse can cause long-term damage, sexual abuse is often the most debilitating to a child – even if it occurs only one time.

How common is childhood sexual abuse in America?

A child is sexually abused in America every six seconds. However, this may just represent the tip of the iceberg since only about 1 in 10 children can overcome their fear enough to even report these crimes. Furthermore, it’s now estimated that one out of every four girls and one out of every six boys will be sexually assaulted before age 18. Just as shocking is the fact that many abusers are especially attracted to children under the age of three.

What are the long-term repercussions of childhood sexual abuse?

Unable to develop any true self-esteem, victims often respond through “withdrawal, difficulty at school, aggression, running away, nightmares, and extreme anxiety or depression. In some cases, [these] symptoms . . . may not appear until adulthood.” Alcohol and drug addictions are common among abuse victims — as are early teen pregnancies since many young people go desperately searching for the love they’ve never known. Suicide is also a very common response to childhood sexual abuse.

During recent decades, doctors and scientists have now discovered that many forms of abuse permanently damage children — “even when it’s psychological [and] not physical.” In his article entitled, “Wounds that Time Won’t Heal,” Dr. Martin Teicher outlines the various types of “permanent debilitating damages in the brain” that child abuse often inflicts.

In 2013, approximately 41, 149 people in this country killed themselves – “making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans.” It’s quite possible that many who take their lives simply cannot cope with their abuse memories any longer. Princeton graduate student Bill Zeller indicated before he took his life back in January of 2011 that he had become overwhelmed by his ongoing emotional struggles and memories tied to his childhood sexual abuse.

Fortunately, both civil and criminal lawsuits can often be filed against perpetrators to thwart similar future behavior and to obtain the treatment and justice their victims are entitled to receive. Even in early 2015, Penn State is still trying to settle lawsuits based upon Jerry Sandusky’s numerous sex crimes committed against children long ago. As shocking as his crimes were, they’re definitely not isolated. Too many adults get away with such acts each year.

What’s being done to help kids in America fight back against abuse?

Starting back in 2010, a brave young woman named Erin Merryn began trying to help young children all across America. She “started writing state legislators to ask them to pass laws requiring schools to better educate children, school employees and parents how to prevent and stop child sexual abuse.”

As of September 2014, nineteen states had passed Erin’s Law. It “mandates that all public schools use age-appropriate curricula to teach students how to tell on anyone who touches or attempts to touch their private parts.”

What all parents and caregivers of children must do

First and foremost, all adults must personally commit to never sexually abuse or otherwise harm a child. This is critical since “over 90%” of these crimes are committed by “a family member or friend.” Parents must also take the time to personally speak with their children about this issue – and encourage their kids to report any questionable incidents to them.

Our entire society suffers along with our children

All adults must stop committing these crimes against children – including their own. Numerous children struggle to handle these types of abuse issues (both consciously and subconsciously) while sitting in schoolroom classes each day. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that the lifetime cost of “child maltreatment” (abuse) is “$124 billion a year.” Fortunately, our country has dedicated child protection advocates like Erin Merryn who are willing to take the lead in this battle.

Should your child ever report being abused by a teacher, coach, parent of a friend – or another adult — you must stand ready to file a lawsuit on your child’s behalf. Perpetrators must pay for their crimes both civilly and criminally so your child can obtain the lifelong therapeutic help that may be required.

 Feature photo borrowed from: Shout Out UK


Elizabeth Smith, Freelance Writer and graduate of both Fuller Seminary and the University of Texas Law School