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8 Myths About Child Abuse

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Each year more than 500,000 children in the United States are removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect through no fault of their own. They are victims of violence, or psychological or sexual abuse. Most have been neglected, and some have even been abandoned by their parents. Here we debunk eight common myths about child abuse so you can better recognize it and help stop it, one child at a time.

Myth: Child abuse is rare.

Abuse happens everywhere and impacts every demographic. It happens in “good” families and in “bad,” big families and small, in cities and rural communities, in homes, schools, and churches. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 1 out of 5 children will experience some form of abuse or maltreatment before their 18th birthday, and children with disabilities experience an even higher rate of abuse.

Myth: People abused as children become abusers.

This is only partly true. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that about 30% of adults who were abused and neglected as children will later abuse their own children. However, this “cycle of abuse” is not inevitable. While past abuse is one indicator for future abuse, it is not the only one. Some research indicates that if a child is able to disclose an incident of abuse early on and is supported by people who believe the claim is real, the child is less likely to become an adult perpetrator of abuse.

Myth: You can always spot a child molester.

You cannot assume someone is a child abuser just by looking at him or her. In fact, he is probably not that creepy guy down the street. More likely, abuse will be inflicted by a parent, a relative, or a child’s caregiver. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 86% of child abusers are parents or other relatives; nearly 54% are women, and 36% are between the ages of 20 and 29.

Myth: Children are resilient and bounce back from anything.

Children are resilient, but abuse and neglect have lasting and sometimes unidentified consequences. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, children who have had to be removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect suffer post-traumatic stress disorder at twice the rate of veterans of the first Gulf War.

Myth: It’s only abuse if it’s physical.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 78% of child abuse reports were due to neglect. As defined by the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, neglect is the failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child’s basic needs. Neglect may be a) failure to provide physical necessities of food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision, b) failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment, c) failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs, or d) inattention to a child’s emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs.

Myth: Children are usually abused by strangers.

Children are more likely to be abused by someone they know and trust rather than by a stranger. Many children are unable to tell they are being abused when someone familiar is the perpetrator. Disclosing what has happened (or is happening) to them also has a greater personal impact when it involves someone the child knows.

Myth: My child would speak up if he or she were being abused.

Parents should teach their children about dangerous situations and what to do in the event of one. But despite best efforts, there are a variety of reasons why children do not speak up, including having feelings of shame and fear. Not only should children be taught how to recognize if they are being abused and what to do about it, but they should also be made to feel safe and secure when reporting abuse.

Myth: Somebody else will probably report it.

Recurring child abuse and neglect is preventable, but someone must take that first step to end it. This year in the United States, more than 1,500 children will die as a result of abuse or neglect, and nearly 1,250 of those children will be under the age of four. Now imagine how different these children’s lives might have been if a neighbor or relative had the courage to make one simple phone call?

Every state has enacted laws detailing who must report child abuse, and 48 states have laws that list mandatory reporters of child abuse, by profession. Some of those professions include: social workers, teachers, physicians, mental health professionals, and law enforcement agents. Additionally, 18 states mandate that any adult who suspects child abuse must report it to the proper authorities.

If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call 1-800-4-A-CHILD, or contact your local child abuse hotline.

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We're All in This Together
1/17Best Books About Abuse
Books That Teach and Heal
According to Esther Deblinger, PhD, a child trauma therapy expert and co-director of CARES Institute, beginning at age three, children should be educated by trusted adults about sexual abuse. That may sound young, but Dr. Deblinger says 40 percent of her clients are under age six. She recommends using storybooks to give kids critical, accurate information and to let them know they have someone to talk to. With one in four women and one in seven men reporting sexual abuse as kids, there is also great demand for books for adults who seek the healing and community found on the printed page. What follows are 15 of the best books on this kind of abuse–some for kids, some for adults–recommended by Dr. Deblinger and three other experienced therapists. -Jessica Ashley
2/17Best Books About Abuse
I Said NO!
I Said NO!: A Kid-to-Kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private by Zack and Kimberly King gives the power– and the words– back to kids. After real-kid Zack had an uncomfortable experience at a sleepover, he and his mom wrote this book to help other children. In direct, sensible kid-speak, readers will hear information and responses they can practice with trusted adults, earning the book high marks from Kristen Howerton, Professor of Psychology at Vanguard University, and therapist, writer and mom of four kids.
3/17Best Books About Abuse
The Right Touch
No parent really wants to read aloud about child abuse to her small child, but The Right Touch: A Read-Aloud Story to Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse by Sandy Kleven and illustrated by Jody Bergsma softens a tricky subject with sweet illustrations and positive, reassuring messages about what is loving affection and what kind of touch is inappropriate or forced.
4/17Best Books About Abuse
Your Body Belongs to You
While it is the responsibility of adults to stop child abuse, this book is meant to empower children from preschool to second grade, and should be read with trusted parents. Written by Cornelia Maude Spelmen, it uses basic vocabulary to define "private parts" and introduces kids to the concept of being in charge of who touches their bodies.
5/17Best Books About Abuse
Amazing You!
Amazing You: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts, by Gail Saltz teaches preschool-aged children proper names for body parts. Information is forthright and limited, but this book will still allow parents and kids to be at ease when talking about bodies. Dr. Deblinger advises parents that teaching children proper body part names is one critical step in preventing and addressing child abuse, since it offers kids language to speak up if they are uncomfortable or have a question.
6/17Best Books About Abuse
Teen Relationship Workbook
Dr. Deblinger recommends this workbook to professionals counseling teens, so that teens learn tools to help them feel confident and safe in love. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, more than 40% of male and female high school students report experiencing at least one instance of dating violence, and 60% know someone who has.
7/17Best Books About Abuse
I Know Why the Caged...
Her first of five memoirs, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" is Maya Angelou's account of being sent to live with her grandmother, feeling intensely abandoned, being attacked, and finally finding her way to freedom. All of Angelou's writing will serve adults and teens who have been abused or felt imprisoned by their life experiences, but Dr. Melissa Blount, licensed clinical psychologist, recommends this one most often. Published in 1969, it has not lost any of its relevance, power, or poetry.
8/17Best Books About Abuse
The Courage to Heal
Women will find this classic, compassionate guide and accompanying workbook, full of practical expert advice and personal stories intended to create a conversation that helps survivors feel whole and well again. By Ellen Bass and Laura Davis.
9/17Best Books About Abuse
The Bluest Eye
Winner of a 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, this is Toni Morrison's first novel. Though this book is for older readers, at the center is 11-year-old, Pecola Breedlove, who is black, poor, and desperate to become beautiful by having blue eyes. What unfolds is tragic, in its account of what Pecola endures, and in its raw description of how our country treats beauty, girls, and race.
10/17Best Books About Abuse
Strong at Heart
This is a compilation of nine survivor stories by people of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and choices in recovery. The explicit narrative can be overwhelming for teen and adults who have suffered abuse, says Dr. Deblinger, which is why she recommends using it in the context of therapy. Consult a counselor or one of the resource organizations in the book before offering this to a teen reader.
11/17Best Books About Abuse
Trauma and Recovery
When author Judith Herman connected domestic violence to the terror of being held captive in war, her work was considered expansive and groundbreaking. As she tells it, "The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness," rendering them unspeakable. "Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried." In this academic text with narrative from prison diaries to literature, the author reveals how closely connected personal and political abuse really are.
12/17Best Books About Abuse
All About Love: New Visions
Renowned author and feminist scholar, bell hooks, dissects how love can both hurt and heal. In this book, she calls on adult readers to strip away romantic notions from the past, gender stereotypes, ego, and domination to find a love that can help pained people recover.
13/17Best Books About Abuse
A Secure Base
This compilation of lectures by British psychiatrist John Bowlby is regarded as a classic text on the three distinct kinds of attachments between parent and child. Bowlby explores violence, comfort, intellectual and emotional security, and offers this as a guide to adults wanting to raise confident, healthy children.
14/17Best Books About Abuse
The Obsidian Mirror
Sexually abused by three men in her family, Louise M. Wisechild's memoir offers one woman's journey through flashbacks, a suicide attempt, erratic self-criticism, and many stages of recovery that were spiritual and powerful. This book gives an honest, sometimes funny, very direct voice to the abuse Wisechild silenced for years. Dr. Anne Wolfe says Wisechild's account will aid adult survivors and their loved ones.
15/17Best Books About Abuse
Stolen Beauty
The victim of sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse by her father, Amy Madden reveals a childhood wrought with anger, depression, and self-blame. But when her stepfather is brought to trial for abusing his next wife's children, she finds the strength to testify against him through faith, forgiveness, and advocacy. In this book she shares ways everyone can help end child abuse.
16/17Best Books About Abuse
Victims No Longer
Credited as the first book written specifically for men who have suffered sexual trauma, "Victims No Longer" speaks to the one in seven adult males who report being sexually abused as a child. Author Mike Lew delves into societal attitudes toward manhood and outlines steps toward recovery.
17/17Best Books About Abuse
Stopping child abuse is something we all need to lend a hand in. One organization doing amazing work in the field is Prevent Child Abuse America. Visit their site here to learn more or make a donation.
    Mariska Hargitay
    Monica Corcoran, TakePart.com

    Mariska Hargitay: How "Law & Order" Led Her to Fight Abuse
    T.V. doesn't just imitate life, it can change it, too. When Mariska Hargitay started acting on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," she didn't know she'd end up helping children and adults heal from real abuse.
    Mariska, you were inspired to start the Joyful Heart Foundation after receiving letters from "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" fans. Can you tell us about that?
    When I started playing Detective Olivia Benson 13 years ago, I began to get a lot of letters from viewers. I had gotten fan mail before, but these letters were different. They were coming from individuals who were disclosing histories of violence and abuse—a lot of them for the first time. I knew I had to do something, so in 2004 I created the Joyful Heart Foundation with the mission to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light on the darkness surrounding these issues. I'm very proud to report that since we began, we’ve provided direct services to over 5,400 people, and that we’re determined to change the conversation about violence and abuse.
    Sexual abuse and assault are so widespread. Which statistics have had the most significant impact on you?
    Sadly, there are a lot of statistics to choose from. One in three women reports being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. Every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted, and many never report the abuse. Nearly four children die every day in this country as a result of child abuse and neglect. The statistics speak for themselves about the importance of building a society that commits to saying, “Enough is enough.”
    Can you tell us one inspiring story of how JHF helped someone heal?
    I feel really fortunate to be able to say there are a lot of stories to choose from. But one that stands out is a survivor who told us recently that her experience with Joyful Heart “jumpstarted” a part of her that she had forgotten, that she gained back a part of herself that she had given up for lost. My heart soars when I hear things like that.
    Any exciting updates going on now?
    That’s a question I always want to be able to answer with a “yes,” so yes. On January 17, we launched the One Strong Ohana campaign, the first statewide child abuse prevention public awareness campaign in Hawai‘i and the largest child abuse and neglect prevention campaign to date for Joyful Heart.
    You can support the Joyful Heart Foundation by buying two beautiful accessories online at www.whiteandwarren.com and www.meandrojewelry.com
      Help stop child abuse
      Everyone should know how to prevent child abuse. Share the information in this story with your peeps. http://bit.ly/HnSxQA
      Donate to an incredible program
      CASA is a network of 955 programs that recruit, train, and support volunteers to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom and other settings.
      Books teach and heal
      Share these therapist-recommended books about child abuse with your community: http://bit.ly/HnSxQA