Debunk all the common myths about child abuse
BY CAROLLYN MCKINSTRY TYLER’S JUSTICE CENTER FOR CHILDREN STOCKTON, ILL.
We often have misconceptions about child abuse, but to protect children, we need to be aware of what abuse is and what we can do to stop it.
Myth 1: Children lie about being abused. It is very rare that a child would lie about abuse. One of the important services Tyler’s provides is a trained forensic interview for the child. The forensic interviewer has extensive training in how to ask questions in a developmentally appropriate manner and in a way that is not leading. The goal of every interview is to discover the truth.
Myth 2: Abuse rarely happens. Although we would all like to believe that abuse is rare, unfortunately that is not true. Statistics say that one out of every three girls and one out of every six boys has been abused. That is a staggering amount. Child abuse hides under a societal cloak of secrecy that keeps most people quiet about the abuse they have suffered.
Myth 3: Abuse only happens to other people. “Other people” may be those of a different race, religion, socioeconomic status, or who live in a different location. Abuse of a child is a terrible act and many of us want to distance ourselves from it. So we imagine that it happens far away from us, somewhere where it doesn’t hurt the ones we care about. But abuse can happen anywhere and to anyone. Although that awareness can be uncomfortable, it can also help stop abuse. As a community we need to be aware of who lives in our neighborhoods, where our children are going and who is watching our children. This is the one of the most effective ways we can prevent and stop abuse.
Myth 4: Abusers are easy to identify. We assume that an abuser will appear creepy or scary and someone we would never leave our children with, but an abuser can be anyone. This is why it is so important to be aware of who your child is spending time with. Talk to your child about boundaries and what appropriate behavior is. That way, if something happens that makes your child uncomfortable; your child will know something isn’t right.
Myth 5: Children will show signs of abuse. We assume if a child is being abused, that child will have obvious signs and symptoms, such as acting out. Many times children keep abuse a secret and do not show any signs that abuse is happening or has happened. This is often because the abuser uses intimidation and threats so that the child is afraid to tell. Some children do not tell because developmentally children lack an understanding about abuse and its implications. That is why it is very important to talk to your child about abuse so that your child knows abuse is wrong. Also reassure your child that he or she will not be in trouble for telling if abuse does happen.
All of these myths, if they persist, create an atmosphere of denial and secrecy. Abusers rely on myths just like these to help them continue abusing children.
If an abuser can be suave and kind you will give them access to your child. If you think child abuse only happens to “other people” you won’t look too closely at who they are or what they are doing. If you don’t believe child abuse happens it can happen and can continue happening and you won’t notice it.
If you don’t believe a child when he or she tells, then an abuser can keep abusing your child and other children without being caught. Let’s open our eyes to the truth about abuse and do all we can to keep children safe.
The author is a forensic interviewer at Tyler’s Justice Center, which coordinates services for children of Carroll, Jo Daviess and Stephenson counties who were victims of sexual and-or serious physical abuse. She has a master’s degree in professional counseling from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., and has experience counseling people with mental illness. The agency’s Web site is www.tylersjusticecenter.org. The author’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the time you finish reading this, 15 children will have been abused; In the next five minutes, 30 more; Within the next hour, 360 more; And by tonight, close to 8,000+ children will have suffered from abuse, 5 of which will die. Child abuse has increased 134% since 1980 and is now considered a worldwide epidemic. The high jump in child abuse deaths and the shocking increase in statistics highlights the frightening lack of public knowledge.
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