Child Abuse

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Child abuse includes neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. Girls are more likely to be sexually abused than boys. Child abuse occurs in all racial, ethnic, educational, and socioeconomic groups. The abuser is usually someone who provides care for the child—such as a biological parent, adoptive parent, foster parent, grandparent, sibling, other relative, or a friend or neighbor.

Child abuse can have serious, long-term consequences for a child. Children who are abused or who live in violent homes are more likely to see violence as an effective solution to problems. The majority of child abusers were abused or neglected when they were children.

Signs of possible child abuse include the following:

• repeated injuries with unconvincing explanations of the cause

• injuries that leave scars that resemble cigarette burns or marks from an electrical cord, especially in areas of the body that are very sensitive, such as the genitals, nipples, and face

• behavior problems—behavior that is either passive and withdrawn, or hyperactive and aggressive

• reluctance to respond or fear when asked about life at home

• self-destructive, delinquent, or reckless behaviors such as substance abuse, crime, or running away from home

• learning problems and lack of motivation in school

• neglected appearance

• no desire to make friends or invite other children home

• depression

• suicide attempts

If you think that a child you know may be a victim of abuse, do not directly confront the suspected abuser. Contact a local service agency such as a child protective service agency, welfare department or social service agency, public health department, or the police—they can assist the child and the family.

If you are abusing your child or think you may be at risk for doing so, talk to your doctor or a clergy member, or join a support group of people with similar concerns. Many communities have intervention and prevention programs to help you learn positive coping and parenting skills.

Signs of possible sexual abuse include the following:

• bruising, redness, swelling, discharge, or other signs of injury in the rectal or genital area

• regressive behavior such as bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, or excessive clinging

• frequent nightmares or fearfulness

• an increase in hostile or aggressive behavior

• withdrawal from friends, family, or school activities

• provocative, promiscuous, or sexually precocious behavior

Teach your children the difference between good touching and bad touching. A friendly hug or a pat on the back are examples of good touching. Feeling private parts (areas covered by a bathing suit) and touching (including rubbing or kissing) anywhere on their body that makes them feel uncomfortable are examples of bad touching. Make sure that your children know that their body is private and that no one may touch them without their permission.

If you suspect that your child may have been sexually abused, get help immediately. Call your pediatrician or contact the police, a social worker, or a school guidance counselor. Do not hesitate to contact local authorities. Most sex offenders have abused more than one child. Stopping a sex offender will prevent the sexual abuse of other children.

Elder Abuse

Abuse and neglect of older people can involve physical abuse, verbal intimidation, exploitation (such as mishandling of financial resources), medical neglect (such as withholding medications or treatment or devices such as dentures, eyeglasses, hearing aids, or walkers), or physical neglect or abandonment. Most abused older people are women, but men also are abused. Victims of elder abuse usually live with their abuser.

Watch for the following signs of possible abuse in older friends and family members:

Physical or emotional abuse:

• unexplained burns, bruises, cuts, or scars

• frequent falls

• noticeable fear of caregiver

• withdrawal; isolation

• lack of responsiveness

• agitation; anxiety

• confusion; disorientation

• depression

• unexplained weight loss

• changes in personality

Emotional Health and Well-being


132 Signs of financial exploitation:

Staying • mismanagement of the person's assets

• diversion of the person's income

• withdrawal of funds without the person's permission

• withdrawal of funds against the person's will

If you suspect that an older friend, relative, or neighbor is being abused or exploited, try to help him or her. Stay in touch with the person. If you have not seen him or her recently and cannot reach him or her by phone, stop by unexpectedly. If you are not allowed to see the person, ask about his or her health and stop by again within a day or two. Keep trying. If your persistent attempts to see the person fail or if, when you see the person, you suspect that there is a problem, consider reporting the situation to the local protective services agency. A local senior center or senior citizens' agency can tell you where to call for help. Be prepared to provide the person's name and address, the nature of the suspected problem, the names of other people who may know about the situation, and how best to contact the person. Your identity will be kept confidential.

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