This is tough to read and tougher to write about.
I think child abuse hits home to many of us because many of us have experienced it, and many of us are parents ourselves. It's hard to look at your children and imagine that they could be sexually assaulted, or beaten by you, your spouse or by close family or associates.
Child abuse is difficult to identify. By their very nature, many children cannot speak for themselves. An 18 month old cannot tell her pediatrician that her broken arm was at the hands of her mother's boyfriend and not an accidental fall.
And as frightened as children are of their abusers, they are more frightened by the thought of being placed in the foster care system. They are torn between wanting abuse to stop, and often loving their abusers. Children are also faced with various threats from their abusers, in order to ensure their silence. Some are even lead to believe they deserve the abuse.
Doctors are also reticent to report abuse. In a study recently published, doctors only reported 6% of suspected abuse, when they suspected it 10% of the time. Doctors feel they have to weigh the cost of reporting the suspected child abuse against the damaging social welfare system.
And what if they are wrong? What if an accident prone child is simply accident prone, and comes from a loving home where there is no abuse? Admitting that child into the system may do long-lasting damage, and cause terrible distress to her innocent parents.
We often use the term "abuse and neglect". An 8 year study has shown that neglect is more prevalent than abuse but is not treated accordingly. Child neglect is different to child abuse in that it often refers to what is not done, than what is. Child neglect is often considered more lethal that child abuse. Child neglect can be something like not giving your child health care when needed, not feeding a child, or attending to her physical needs like diaper changing, bathing or clothing. Not educating a child and not attending to her emotional needs (never talking to, hugging or showing affection for example). Failure to respond to a child's injuries or sickness can lead to devastating results.
This 8 year study (published this week in the Lancet) states that about of 10% of girls suffer from extreme sexual abuse and many more suffer sexual injury. The percentage of extreme sexual abuse for boys is about 5% and it is estimated that between 4% and 16% of children are physically abused every year. Most troubling is that upwards of 90% of child abuse and neglect is never reported or treated.
Incidentally, these numbers are for wealthy and developed nations like the United States and United Kingdom.
What can we do about these shocking numbers? Are you surprised at them? How can we better ensure that children are not victims of abuse and neglect?