Child Abuse

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.—Martin Luther King, Jr.

While I’m pret­ty vocal about dis­ap­prov­ing of the fact that so many kids spend most of their wak­ing hours with strangers rather than with their fam­i­lies, the sad fact is that it is more com­mon for a fam­i­ly mem­ber or friend to abuse or neglect chil­dren phys­i­cal­ly, psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly, ver­bal­ly, or sex­u­al­ly. That betray­al by some­one who the child should be able to trust is, in fact, one of the most dam­ag­ing parts of abuse or neglect in a psy­cho­log­i­cal or spir­i­tu­al sense.

The most recent sta­tis­tics I’ve seen say that 1 in 3 females and 1 in 5 males expe­ri­ence some kind of sex­u­al abuse by the time he or she is 18 and that only cov­ers the assaults that are report­ed. It is well-known that the vast major­i­ty of inci­dents are nev­er report­ed. Many of the women I’ve known close­ly have been vic­tims of abuse as chil­dren or rape or attempt­ed rapes as adults. (Actu­al­ly, I’ve just found a link that may help with fig­ures if you’re so inclined—the Child Wel­fare Infor­ma­tion Gate­way.) A fair num­ber of the men I’ve known have been sim­i­lar­ly vic­tim­ized. Since I’m one of those who was raped as a child, I find it dif­fi­cult to read much of the lit­er­a­ture that is pro­duced on the top­ic and can­not research the sta­tis­tics very well. The preva­lence of the prob­lem is a sign of a deep sick­ness in our world.

Sta­tis­ti­cal­ly, the inci­dence of abuse seems to be get­ting worse. The fol­low­ing is an excerpt from the exec­u­tive sum­ma­ry of the Third Nation­al Inci­dence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect. The study was done in 1995 under the aus­pices of the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Human Services.


  • There have been sub­stan­tial and sig­nif­i­cant increas­es in the inci­dence of child abuse and neglect since the last nation­al inci­dence study was con­duct­ed in 1986.
  • Under the Harm Stan­dard def­i­n­i­tions, the total num­ber of abused and neglect­ed chil­dren was two-thirds high­er in the NIS‑3 than in the NIS‑2. This means that a child’s risk of expe­ri­enc­ing harm-caus­ing abuse or neglect in 1993 was one and one-half times the child’s risk in 1986.
  • Under the Endan­ger­ment Stan­dard, the num­ber of abused and neglect­ed chil­dren near­ly dou­bled from 1986 to 1993. Phys­i­cal abuse near­ly dou­bled, sex­u­al abuse more than dou­bled, and emo­tion­al abuse, phys­i­cal neglect, and emo­tion­al neglect were all more than two and one-half times their NIS‑2 levels.
  • The total num­ber of chil­dren seri­ous­ly injured and the total num­ber endan­gered both quadru­pled dur­ing this time.

Child Char­ac­ter­is­tics

  • Girls were sex­u­al­ly abused three times more often than boys.
  • Boys had a greater risk of emo­tion­al neglect and of seri­ous injury than girls.
  • Chil­dren are con­sis­tent­ly vul­ner­a­ble to sex­u­al abuse from age three on.
  • There were no sig­nif­i­cant race dif­fer­ences in the inci­dence of mal­treat­ment or mal­treat­ment-relat­ed injuries uncov­ered in either the NIS‑2 or the NIS‑3.

In most cas­es abused chil­dren have tried to tell some adult about the abuse, but the adults are in denial or sim­ply don’t know how to respond. In my case, the man to whom my aunt was mar­ried had sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly abused his own chil­dren and grand­chil­dren for years. Many peo­ple knew or strong­ly sus­pect­ed what was hap­pen­ing, but appar­ent­ly, they all thought “it’s not my child, it’s none of my busi­ness, I can’t do any­thing.” Well, it was their chil­dren. It was any child he got his hands on, if even for a brief peri­od. And as far as I’m con­cerned, every adult who even sus­pect­ed what was hap­pen­ing and did­n’t act is par­tial­ly respon­si­ble for what hap­pened to every one of us who were harmed.

As an adult, I have cho­sen to be a sur­vivor rather than a vic­tim. My life is not defined by what hap­pened when I was small, although that expe­ri­ence has had a neg­a­tive impact on me, and I’ve had to do much heal­ing work to get past it. If I had­n’t got­ten past it, I’d have allowed him to win, to con­tin­ue to hurt me long past the time when I was out of his phys­i­cal grasp.

Chil­dren deserve to be pro­tect­ed. They deserve to be res­cued and to have their abusers per­ma­nent­ly removed from soci­ety. They deserve the med­ical and psy­cho­log­i­cal care they need to heal. They deserve to know that they have done absolute­ly noth­ing wrong and they are in no way to blame for the actions of a mon­ster. If they don’t get the care and love they need to heal as a child, they must take respon­si­bil­i­ty for get­ting what they need as adults. Those who use the excuse of hav­ing been abused in an attempt to jus­ti­fy hav­ing become abusers them­selves are no bet­ter than the scum that start­ed the cycle, no mat­ter how many gen­er­a­tions ago it start­ed. At some point, each per­son becomes an adult and must take respon­si­bil­i­ty for them­selves and their actions.

You need to claim the events of your life to make them yours. When you tru­ly pos­sess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.—Florinda Scott Maxwell 

Many times peo­ple are embar­rassed to even admit they’ve been abused as if it is some­thing they brought upon them­selves or some­thing that dirt­ied them. That is the fur­thest thing from the truth, but it is an atti­tude that pro­motes silence, which pro­longs the cycles of abuse. It is much more dif­fi­cult for an edu­cat­ed child with a good sense of self-esteem to be abused than it is to abuse chil­dren who aren’t as sure of them­selves. Please talk to your chil­dren today, before it’s too late.

To learn more, call the Geor­gia Coun­cil on Child Abuse at 1–800-532‑3208 or 404–870-6565 in Atlanta.

I can’t help but won­der how many kids who do tell ever get any help or actu­al­ly find them­selves stig­ma­tized by hav­ing a his­to­ry of men­tal health treat­ment if they do get help. I’ve been treat­ed for depres­sion and com­plex post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der relat­ed to the abuse I expe­ri­enced. I tried very seri­ous­ly to com­mit sui­cide in 1988. I am not ashamed of that fact—I sought the help I need­ed and I am much stronger and health­i­er for it. I will not hide it, and I cer­tain­ly will not apol­o­gize for it.

I can only hope that increased aware­ness and open­ness about abuse will lead to more peo­ple active­ly edu­cat­ing their chil­dren in an attempt to help “abuse proof” those kids. There are ways to talk to chil­dren and atti­tudes you can instill in them that will help them be more like­ly to resist abuse or to get help if they are abused. Teach­ing chil­dren that they own their own bod­ies is a good start.

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