When Silence Becomes Dangerous: 10 Signs to Recognize Child Abuse

11 Dec

In recent weeks, the topic of child abuse and public scandal seem to have taken over the media. Stories are being repeated almost daily of children placed in the hands of trusted adults, only to later be victimized. Child Abuse. A crime associated with waves of internalized blame, shame, isolation, and anger. A dangerous, unhealthy game of silence often played by three key players: the victim, the perpetrator, and those on the outside who often suspect something is amiss.

The following are 10 signs to help recognize child abuse:

1) Unexplained injuries: Visible signs of physical abuse may include bruises or burns in the shape of objects. These injuries are often accompanied by unconvincing explanations.

2) Changes in behavior: An abused child may suddenly appear scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn, or overly aggressive.

3) Age-Inappropriate behaviors: An abused older child may begin bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, or develop a fear of the dark, especially after having once mastering these tasks.

4) Fear of Going Home: A child may express either a fear of going home or a fear of going places with the abuser.

5) Changes in Eating: The stress, fear, and anxiety of  being abuse can change eating behaviors and cause weight loss or gain.

6) Changes in Sleeping: Frequent nightmares or constant fatigue is often present.

7) Changes in School Performance / Attendance: Difficulty concentrating (performance) or excessive absences (attendance) may be due to adults attempting to hide injuries.

8 ) Lack of Personal Care or Hygiene: Abused children may appear unclean, uncared for, or wearing clothing unsuitable for the weather.

9) Risk-Taking Behaviors: Adolescents facing abuse may engage in risky behaviors such as taking illegal drug / alcohol or carrying a weapon for protection.

10) Inappropriate Sexual Behaviors: Children who are victims of sexual abuse my exhibit overly sexualized behaviors, language, and/or knowledge.

In all, while no one clue alone may indicate a child in experiencing abuse, multiple clues could be a cause for alarm. Some may be hesitant to report abuse due to a long-standing mistrust of the Child Welfare System. However, in my opinion, reporting child abuse is like the New York City MTA transportation slogan: “If you see something, say something.”  At worst, you report anonymously and are proven wrong. At Best? You potentially save a child’s life.

*Information gathered from Safe Horizon

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3 Responses to “When Silence Becomes Dangerous: 10 Signs to Recognize Child Abuse”

  1. saychelle December 11, 2011 at 11:12 pm #

    Hello, my blog(Little Voices) is all about child abuse. Lets start with education, educating our parents, children, caretakers, coaches, and other professionals what child abuse is all about. It can be prevented if the adults take more time with their children instead of leaving it up to others to protect them. We can’t be with our children on a 24 hour basis and it’s okay to ask questions about the people who we entrust our children’s safety to. It’s more than running criminal clearances on people, it’s word of mouth-talking to others about who’s who, attending the practices, games and events our children are involved in and most of all it’s talking to our children about their safety. Parents need to be more aggressive when it comes to their children and their safety. I work for children and youth services as an investigator of children’s sex crimes and it can be prevented, we have to keep our eyes open.

    • Angela December 12, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

      Hi Saychelle,

      Thanks so much for your reply. I completely agree with you. When talking about child abuse, addressing the issue reactively is NOT the answer. We have to be proactive. Recently, Ive worked with a large non-profit in the Harlem community (NYC) and in addition to educating parents on typical child development and overall parenting, we talked about “discipline VS punishment” and defining child abuse. Needless to say, it was most definitely a “hot-topic.” While most parents were open to the conversation, the topic did bring out terrible childhood memories for some parents and activated defense mechanisms. Commonly heard? “How are you going to tell me how to raise my child?” My answer? I’m here as a helper, to offer new skills / choices on ways to address situations before they escalate to a point of losing control. When it comes to vigilance, you are right again. A caregiver should never feel they are too polite, too probing, or too shy to investigate those who spend time with their children. A life may hang in the balance.

      Side Question: How are children prepped for exams /questions during your investigations?

      • saychelle December 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

        Hi Angela,
        There are a number of ways to question children and it depends on their age. We have a forensic interviewer and a separate office where children are interviewed. The children are taken to a room and there is a one way mirror where myself and an officer observe the interview. Children lead the interview at all times. If it is a crisis and the children need to be interviewed right away, I will interview them at school or they may be brought down to our Special Victims Unit for the police to interview. We try to interview the child at the same time to cut down on multiple interviews and recanting. Also we don’t want to keep retraumatizing the child. When I interview children, it’s just myself and the child. I usually have crayons and paper to make them feel comfortable. I also do this with teenagers. I engage them in the conversation to get them talking about school, favorite show or what they like to do. It takes time and it can’t be rushed. You also have to watch how you ask the questions because if you start with leading questions, the interview becomes tainted. The dolls are no longer used but there are drawings of the human body, boy and girl where we ask them to identify the body parts and learn what names they have for certain body parts of their own.

        When talking to parents make sure you have something to give them. When I meet parents for the first time I give them a package of information from parenting classes to information on your child being a victim of sexual abuse to support groups that the agency offers. I ask them how they discipline their children and we come up with creative ways when the hollering and hitting with a belt no longer works. Parents need support not someone telling them what is wrong or right but someone to guide them. Parents imitate their parents who imitated their parents. I am surprised that child protective services never investigated my mother or grandmother lol. You have to do some background work on the parents to see where they are coming from.

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