Dr. Charles Sophy
LA County Child & Family Services, father of a 4-year-old
Child abuse is any type of abuse – whether it’s physical, emotional, sexual or neglect. Neglect can be physical, emotional or even educational. Neglect can be a case of the kids not being cleaned or the kids are doing dangerous things and not being told what not to do. So abuse is anything that falls into that category. If we get any indication of abuse, there’s an investigation and then evaluation tools. Is it abuse or neglect, or is it something that doesn’t fall into that category and we don’t have to intervene? If we have to intervene, the child might be removed from the home.
Signs of physical abuse include the child having hit marks and bruises. Remember, however, that bruises can be hidden. An adult may also notice the child isn’t meeting his or her developmental milestones, which can also be a sign of abuse. Additional red flags include changes in their sleep patterns or maybe in their appetite. You’ll definitely notice mood changes, either becoming really depressed or really isolated. Abused children may become more aggressive or much more anxious. They maybe talk more about, “Let’s keep a secret,” because they’re living in a realm of keeping their abuse a secret. Abused children may touch themselves in their private areas because they either have pain there or because they feel dirty there. If they have been sexually abused, they may behave in a seductive manner because they think that that’s the only way to engage someone. Overall, you’ll see changes that are really out of the usual behavior for that child.
Neglect may be a little bit harder to detect, but you’re definitely going to see weight loss. The child may be unkempt or may not have been bathed for days. They’re hungry more often or they may ravish food like they haven’t eaten in a while.
Abused children often may feel ashamed or think that they’re going to get someone in trouble, so it’s very difficult for them to feel open enough to discuss the abuse. If you suspect a child is being abused, you must report it. You can even do so anonymously. No matter where you live, you should call your Department of Family Services and say who the perpetrators are.
Often times, perpetrators were abused themselves and didn’t get treatment. There are a significant amount of men who are perpetrators. The statistics are alarming. Thousands of kids die from abuse each year, but the emotional abuse remains long after the physical abuse. Many times, emotional signs don’t surface until kids are older, and these kids in turn may become abusive parents.
The foundation of trust and intimacy doesn’t formulate properly with an abuser. An abuser grows up not trusting, not tolerating and resorts to what was done to them. Parents who were abused have trouble with trust, intimacy and closeness. With proper treatment, they can get through these things. The goal of treatment is to have the abused child regain a sense of trust and self-worth.