To find the words to describe abuse of any form would require us putting on the shoes of a victim so that we can attempt to understand the physical, emotional and psychologic torture that they experience. It would require letting go of one’s freedom and rights of expression, suppressing the desire to be heard and understood, attaining perfection on all first attempts and living in a world almost oblivious of one’s self.
Abuse can be categorised into various forms which include; child abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, financial abuse and many others. These are all inter-related but for the purpose of this series, we’ll be looking at just a few. First of which is child abuse.
Child abuse is when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child. Child abuse and neglect occurs in a range of situations and for a range of reasons. Children are rarely subject to one form of abuse at a time. It usually involves more than one form of abuse – physical, sexual, psychological, or even neglect which can occur in a child’s home, school or within the communities that the child interacts. In general, abuse refers to (usually deliberate) acts of commission while neglect refers to acts of omission. As of 2014, an estimated 41,000 children under 15 are victims of homicide each year.
TELL TALE SIGNS OF CHILD ABUSE
A child who’s being abused may feel guilty, ashamed or confused. He or she may be afraid to tell anyone about the abuse, especially if the abuser is a parent, relative or a family friend. In fact, the child may have an apparent fear of parents, adult caregivers or family friends and that is why it’s vital to watch out for certain red flags such as;
• Withdrawal from friends or usual activities
• Changes in behaviour — such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity — or changes in school performance
• Depression, anxiety or unusual fears or a sudden loss of self-confidence.
• Reluctance to leave school activities, as if he or she doesn’t want to go home
• Rebellious or defiant behaviour.
Physical abuse in children
• Unexplained injuries, such as bruises, fractures or burns
• Injuries that don’t match the given explanation
• Untreated medical or dental problems
Sexual abuse in children
• Sexual behaviour or knowledge that’s inappropriate for the child’s age
• Pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection
• Blood in the child’s underwear
• Statements that he or she was sexually abused
• Trouble walking or sitting or complaints of genital pain
• Abuse of other children sexually
Emotional abuse in children
• Delayed or inappropriate emotional development
• Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
• Headaches or stomach aches with no medical cause or desperately seeking affection.
• A decrease in school performance or loss of interest in school
• Loss of previously acquired developmental skills
Neglect signs in children
• Poor growth or weight gain
• Poor hygiene
• Lack of clothing or supplies to meet physical needs
• Taking food or money without permission
• Eating a lot in one sitting or hiding food for later
Specific signs and symptoms depend on the type of abuse and may vary. Keep in mind that warning signs are just that — warning signs. The presence of warning signs doesn’t necessarily mean that a child is being abused.
BUT WHY WILL ANY BODY WANT TO HURT A CHILD?
Factors that may increase a person’s risk of becoming abusive include;
• A history of being abused or neglected as a child
• Physical or mental illness, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• Family crisis or stress, including domestic violence and other marital conflicts, single parenting or young children in the family especially several children under age 5
• A child in the family who is developmentally or physically disabled
• Financial stress or unemployment
• Social or extended family isolation
• Poor understanding of child development and parenting skills
• Alcoholism or other forms of substance abuse
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP AN ABUSED CHILD IF I FIND ONE?
Sometimes, it may seem as though minding your business is the best thing to do and society will tempt you to. But if there is one thing you shouldn’t do after discovering an abused child, it is to keep quiet. Children are very vulnerable because they are weak on all sides physically, emotionally and otherwise. Children cannot stop child abuse but adults can. Report to the appropriate authorities as soon as you can and don’t stop until you see a change. It is NOT OK to mind your business.
In the next part of this series, we’ll discuss sexual abuse. This cuts across all ages and gender and it’s worth looking into. Till next time, remember #itsnotokaytokeepquiet!