There are four main categories of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. A child could be subjected to more than one of these.
As adults, it takes a long time to get past the doubts and nail something down as abuse. It is definitely more difficult for a child (a minor; that is anyone under the age of eighteen). When a child does realize it is abuse, he/she may muster the courage to talk to someone about it – in most cases, this is a parent. What if the child has approached his/her parent(s), and been dismissed? This could happen if the parents are not aware, or do not believe the child. It could also happen in the following scenarios –
- – What if the abuser is a close family member – grandparent, parent, or sibling?
- – What if there is domestic violence and the non-abusive partner has no voice?
- – What if one parent has a personality disorder and the other parent is abusive?
- – What if a child is neglected or emotionally abused by one parent, and sexually by another?
- – What about a child who does not have parents, and abused by a caregiver?
First the bad news – These circumstances are not as remote as one would think. It could even be happening in your neighbourhood. The good news is you and I maybe able do something about it.
When is intervention warranted?
A child in any of the above scenarios needs help. How would you know?
- – Watch out for unkempt appearance, uncut nails – these could be indicators of neglect and other forms of abuse.
- – Does the child seem to seek affection and look for a parent figure?
- – What a child says, or does not say, can reveal a lot. Pay attention.
- – Has the child spoken of nightmares?
- – A child’s stories and artwork can speak volumes.
- – Has the family been moving a lot?
- – Ask about cuts, bruises, broken spectacles. Do the explanations ring true?
Who can help?
- – Teachers at school
- – Those who conduct after-school activities
- – Volunteers at NGOs
- – Family, friends, neighbours – anyone who interacts with a child in his/her daily life can help
How can I help?
- – Give the child the attention and affection he/she is seeking.
- – Listen, respond, talk, build an atmosphere of trust.
- – Tell him/her what you would tell your own child about inappropriate touching and consent. Take it slow.
- – Let the child know you are there should he/she want to talk.
- – Whether or not you speak to the child’s parents or anyone else, you can make the child feel loved and valued. Who knows, it may just give him/her the strength to say NO!
At the same time, be very careful not to do anything that could leave you open to allegations.
We need to bear in mind that not all children are as fortunate as our own.
If you would like to help, be watchful. Your love could save a child from growing into an adult with low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, personality disorders… and may even be what stops him/her from turning into an abuser.