5 Things to Do When You Suspect Child Abuse
Approximately 90% of abused children know their abusers. Learn how to become that child’s greatest advocate, someone they can trust.
Recently, as I was on my way home from work, I looked at my messages on Facebook to find the following message (copied verbatim) from a friend that works at a local gym:
“Hoping you can send me in the right direction. Sitting in my office just a bit ago and I hear a little boy walking down the hall crying into the boys locker room. His “Dad” yells at him to shut up and stop his crying. His tone of voice triggered my Mama Bear instinct. I hear him tell the boy (5 yrs old) to quit his crying nothing is wrong with him and to bend over. I thought he was helping him change. Then I hear a LOUD smack…and I ran. By the time I got to the door the little boy was howling and the man tells him I told you to bend over and grab your toes. I yelled or maybe screamed Hey! Not in this building unless you want me to call the police! He said K, sorry. My swim instructors, not knowing what had just happened, came to find me to report what they felt had been abuse during his swim lesson. He yelled at the little boy all class, threw him in the pool when he wouldn't jump in and held him under water when he wouldn't put his face in. The reason for the beating? He was scared to put his face in the water but the mans 3 year old would. The instructor tried to explain the boys behavior was very normal, kids learn at different paces and have different reactions to swimming and dealing patiently with those issues is part of what they do. He stormed out… I just don't know what else to do bit am sick that this poor little boy is probably at home getting beat. Any suggestions?”
What would you do? For this particular incident, the abuse occurred in a public place and with a person that my friend did not even know; but she did the right thing.
My friend told him to stop, checked his information, and made a report to the police and child protective services about what had happened.
In a recent article I wrote, entitled 5 Signs of Child Abuse, I talked about what child abuse is and how to recognize it; however, just recognizing the abuse does little for saving lives and stopping the chaos.
The truly frightening thing is that most abuse is not as blatant and in-your-face as the example above and often involves people that you are well acquainted with. Childhelp.org reports that approximately 90% of abused children know their abusers, and children are most likely to first disclose instances of abuse to a parent, close friend, or someone they have regular, trusting contact with.
So how do you deal with abuse when you just suspect it, rather than having actually witnessed it?
- Have a relationship of trust with your kids. If they feel like they can’t talk to you about other things, they will rarely tell you about abuse.
- Listen and believe. Don’t judge: One of the most hurtful things to a child is when that child discloses abuse and is not believed.
- Ask only four questions. Childhelp.org suggests that you ask only four questions and refrain from other questions to keep from leading the child or making them feel like they are being interrogated.
- What happened?
- Who did this to you?
- Where were you when this happened?
- When did this happen?
- Provide safety and reassure the child that it is not his or her fault. Do not send the child back into the battle zone, if you can help it. One of the most common complaints that abused children have is “______ should have kept me safe!”
- Take Action. Report the abuse to the police and to child protective services and let them investigate. You can make the report anonymously, if you would like.
If you suspect abuse or if a child reports abuse to you, you become that child’s greatest advocate. As we listen and take appropriate action, we help that child to trust the world again as they release themselves from self-blame and doubt. We have the power to instill cycles of growth, rather than cycles of destruction.