Each year a certain month is proclaimed as “Child Abuse Awareness Month”. In the United States it is April, while in Canada it is October. It is imperative that our concern and awareness of child abuse not be limited to one month a year, but recognize that every day children are victimized by various forms of abuse.
There is no acceptable level of child abuse.
The safety of children is everyone’s responsibility. Within the Christian community we must be compelled to stop all forms of child abuse within our homes, our churches, our schools, our communities, our world. I believe that this will only be possible as we personally answer the following questions:
DO YOU SEE?
There will always be a public outcry when the media reports the extreme and horrific situations of abuse where children die at the hands of their abusers. These tragedies could have been prevented if only one person had been willing to see abuse long before the bones were broken or child’s body emaciated by malnutrition.
Child abuse has many faces and may not always be recognized by physical symptoms (i.e. bruises or broken bones). Identifying child abuse in the early stages must be our goal. Symptoms may be physical, behavioural or both. There is rarely one incident or symptom of abuse. Emotional and sexual abuse are difficult to identify because there are no physical scars, however, being aware of behavioural changes, a sexual awareness beyond their years, poor hygiene, aggressive outbursts, bullying tactics may all require further investigation by child care professionals. The challenge is that we see the signs and respond as early as possible.
DO YOU BELIEVE?
Believe the child: Most children who have been abused DO NOT report their abuse because they fear that they will not be believed. The dependency that children have on their abusers creates an environment whereby children fear for their future. This will create an environment of secrecy that allows the abuse to continue.
Believe the reality: It is difficult for us as a society to acknowledge that people we know, even good people, even family members are capable of abuse. The sad truth is that each of us know someone who has been impacted by child abuse. Child abusers are people we know and people we trust. Denial is easy but has never saved a child!
WILL YOU ACT?
In 1873 the first reported case of child abuse began the world-wide crusade to save children. Mary-Ellen was nine years old when a church worker, Mrs. Etta Wheeler, who had been asked to visit the family, found Mary-Ellen shackled to her bed, grossly malnourished, scarred and badly beaten. Mrs. Wheeler was so appalled by what she saw that she went to the authorities to report this horrifying child abuse. The authorities turned her away. Mrs. Wheeler refused to take no for an answer; she petitioned the American SPCA. Animals were protected, but children were not. Mrs. Wheeler appealed to the ASPCA that children were members of the animal kingdom, and must therefore be protected. It was on these grounds that the ASPCA did finally intervene.
Mary-Ellen was removed from her abusive home, placed in foster care with Mrs. Wheeler’s family, where she thrived. She went on to marry, have two daughters, and Mary-Ellen lived to the age of 92. Mary-Ellen’s life changed dramatically because someone cared enough to do something about her abusive situation.
Every child deserves a life free of fear and abuse. Every citizen has a responsibility to do all they can to address child abuse that they see. In Canada, if a person has suspicions or actual knowledge of child abuse because he/she has either seen abuse occur or has been told abuse occurred, that person must report the abuse under the duty to report law. Charges and fines are consequences of failing to report.
Responding to abuse cannot happen simply to satisfy our legal obligation, but rather out of a moral conviction that values the precious gift of children. We must make each day an “awareness day” where we seek out an understanding of what child abuse is, why it happens, how to recognize when someone is being abused, where to go for help and be willing to respond to the unheard cries of the children. You may be a child’s last hope!
· To learn more about Mary Ellen, go to: http://www.theawarenesscenter.org/
By Nancy Turley
Territorial Abuse Advisor
The Salvation Army
Canada & Bermuda Territory