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Child Abuse and Neglect

If you suspect a child is being abused, it’s critical to get them the help he or she needs immediately. Call SAFELine at 814-456-SAFE (7233).

Facts About Child Abuse

  • More than 80 percent of abusers are a parent or someone close to a child.
  • Child abuse is more likely to occur in the child's home than anywhere else.
  • Large families (four or more children) have higher rates of abuse and neglect, especially if their living conditions are crowded or if they live in isolated areas.
  • Most sexual abusers are someone a child knows — not a stranger. One in three girls and one in five boys are sexually assaulted by an adult at some time during childhood.
  • Abuse doesn't just mean physical abuse. Neglect and emotional abuse can be just as damaging. Since these forms of abuse are subtler, others may be less likely to notice or intervene.
  • Abuse doesn't just happen in "bad families" and isn’t limited to “bad” neighborhoods. It crosses all racial, economic, and cultural boundaries.
  • Not all abusers are intentionally harming their children. Many have been victims of abuse themselves, and don't know any other way to parent. Others may be struggling with mental health issues or a substance abuse problem.

Possible Signs of Child Abuse

If you have concerns about a child's well-being, use the indicators listed below to assess the situation. However, please remember that many of these signs could be caused by factors other than abuse or neglect.

Emotional abuse

  • Apathy (the child just doesn't care)
  • Depression
  • The child won't play or participate in school activities
  • The child exhibits aggressive behavior
  • The child’s appetite either increases or decreases

Neglect

  • Being hungry much of the time
  • Wandering outdoors unsupervised
  • Being unsuitably dressed for the weather
  • Wearing the same soiled clothes or dirty clothing
  • Showing up early or staying late at school

Physical abuse

  • Bruises or welts shaped like an object (like a belt buckle or an electric cord)
  • Bruises in unusual places (back, eyes, mouth, buttocks, genital areas, thighs, calves)
  • Layers of different colored bruises in the same general area
  • Small round burns from cigarettes
  • Burns in the shape of an object (iron, fireplace tool, heater)
  • Rope burns on ankles, wrists, or torso
  • Adult-sized bite marks

Sexual abuse

  • Withdrawal or anti-social behavior
  • Refusal to undress for physical education or sports
  • Exaggerated interest in sex or "acting out" sex with other children
  • Unusually seductive behavior
  • Fear of intimate contact (hugging or sports)
  • Torn, stained, or bloodied clothing

Helping an Abused or Neglected Child

It can be very stressful to decide what to do if you feel a child is being abused. However, you can make a huge difference in the life of an abused child, especially if you act early.

Tips for Talking to an Abused Child

  • Avoid denial and remain calm. If a child comes to you and tells you about abuse, avoid showing any shock or disgust at what they are saying. This may scare them into shutting down and not talking.
  • Don't interrogate. Allow the child to explain the whole situation without asking questions or leading them. Let them get the whole story out before you interrupt.
  • Reassure the child that they did nothing wrong. It takes a brave child to come forward about abuse. Respect their bravery and reassure them that it's not their fault.
  • Safety comes first. If you feel that your safety or the safety of the child would be threatened if you try to intervene, leave it to a professional group such as SAFELine. Have a professional with you when the subject is approached to the alleged abuser.

Report Child Abuse and Neglect

Reporting child abuse can save lives. However, many people may be uncomfortable reporting child abuse for the following reasons:

I don't want to interfere.

The effects of child abuse are lifelong and will affect any future relationships and self-esteem. Also, the child may be more at risk of becoming an abuser as the cycle continues. Reporting child abuse can help break the cycle.

What if I break up someone's home?

Reporting child abuse does not mean a child is automatically removed from the house, unless the child is clearly in danger. Support services such as parenting classes, anger management, or other resources may be offered to parents first if the child is safe.

I don't want them to know it was me that called.

Reporting is anonymous. The child abuser cannot find out who made the report of child abuse. The only concern should be helping the child.

It may be nothing.

If you really feel that something is wrong, it's better to be safe than sorry. You might not have all the facts or know the whole situation, but if you really fear for a child’s safety, speak up.

Recognizing Abusive Behavior in Yourself

Do you recognize abusive behavior in yourself? Do you feel angry and frustrated and don't know where to turn? Call 814-456-SAFE (7233) to find support and resources in your community that can help you break the cycle of abuse.

How can you tell if you need help?

  • The anger won't stop. A simple swat on the backside turns into multiple hits that get harder and harder. Or you find yourself screaming louder and louder and can't stop.
  • You are emotionally disconnected from your child. Raising a child can be overwhelming, and maybe you are finding that you don't want anything to do with your child. Day after day, you just want to be left alone and for your child to be quiet.
  • The daily needs of your child seem overwhelming. Everyone struggles with balancing dressing, feeding, and getting kids to school or other activities, but if you continually can't manage to do it, it's a sign that something might be wrong.
  • Other people have expressed concern. Are the words coming from someone you normally respect and trust? Denial is not an uncommon reaction, but it may be the wake-up call you need to change your actions.