The recent child abuse allegations and scandal at Penn State University have brought the issue of child sexual abuse to the forefront of our nation’s media coverage. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. In Fort Bend County, child abuse is a big and growing problem. This past year, Child Advocates of Fort Bend served 1400 children – all alleged victims of abuse – physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Some shocking statistics about this “silent” epidemic:
– 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will be sexually abused by the time they reach 18 years old;
– 95% of children know their abuser
– 9 out of 10 children will never tell.
Perhaps most tragic, only 6% of adults made a report when confronted with suspected abuse.
You might ask why?
1- People don’t know their legal obligations.
2- People don’t know who to tell.
3- People don’t want to get involved.
4- People don’t want to “rock the boat”.
Let’s address each of these concerns
People don’t know it is their duty to report abuse. In the state of Texas, it is everyone’s legal obligation to report child abuse – this includes the lay person as well as the professional. “If any person has cause to believe that a child’s physical health, mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect, by any person, then he or she shall immediately make a report,” according to the Texas Family Code.
And, if you are a professional, defined as a teacher, nurse, doctor, health care employee, day-care employee, juvenile probation, detention and correctional officer, the law goes further. It is your duty to report if you have cause to believe that a child may be abused or neglected in the future.
People don’t know who to tell. Far too frequently, adults report suspected abuse to an employment supervisor or another adult rather than to the appropriate authorities. This has occurred within schools and school districts, day care centers, places of worship, and other youth-serving organization across Texas. Texas law mandates that adults suspecting child abuse or neglect should report directly to Child Protective Services (CPS) at Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-252-5400, or to local law enforcement (generally 911).
The law in Texas is written in such a way that no “internal” reporting is necessary or desired. The act of reporting cannot be passed on to a superior or delegated to another individual. Adults who “handle” an allegation internally and fail to report suspected abuse to one of these entities are actually in violation of state law.
People don’t want to get involved. All reports are confidential. Many people who don’t report feel that they don’t personally want to be drawn into what many consider a private issue. With the recent Penn State allegations, adults are beginning to understand why they must take a stand for children. You do not have to identify yourself when making your report.
People don’t want to “rock the boat”. We have all seen the fallout to Penn State from the abuse allegations. Think about the impact this event has had on the lives of the victims, not to mention the university’s reputation, alumni relations, athletic department recruiting, undergraduate admissions, and on and on. The boat has been rocked in ways far greater and more long-lasting than if swift, decisive action could have been taken at the first suspicion of child sexual abuse.
Each year, almost 40,000 Texas children walk into a children’s advocacy center to lay down the heaviest of burdens – violence and abuse at the hands of a trusted adult. In Fort Bend County last year alone, over 1100 children walked into Child Advocates of Fort Bend to tell their stories of abuse, receive therapy, court advocacy, and family services at our Children’s Advocacy Center. We were ready to step in and provide a path to healing for these small victims. Working hand in hand with the District Attorney’s Office, we helped to bring justice to these cases and prevent other children from being hurt.
It takes a community working together to tackle this epidemic. Timely reporting not only alleviates a child’s suffering, it prevents future incidences of abuse. Responsible adults must be the voice for these children. If informed communities, leaders, and individuals working with children can hold a meaningful dialogue on this issue, we can better protect our children. We need adults to find the courage to face this ugly issue if we hope to end this silent epidemic.
For more information, contact Child Advocates of Fort Bend at 281-344-5100 or www.cafb.org.
Let’s all do our part to ensure the safety of our children. Together, we can stamp our child abuse.
Child Advocates of Fort Bend