The Abuse of our Youth: Let the Healing Begin

Dr. Ralph E. Jones, Special to the Star

By Dr. Ralph E. Jones, Special to the Star

Child abuse and neglect remains yet another major problem in our society. Since the Presidential Proclamation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, the month of April has been designated Child Abuse Prevention Month in America.

This annual observance in the United States is dedicated to raising awareness and preventing child abuse. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services relate to us that approximately 700,000 children are victimized by child abuse or neglect, while around 1,600 children have died annually from abuse or neglect (these are numbers of reported cases only, I contend that the number of abused children are most probably in the millions); almost all cases are preventable and most demanding of our full attention.

Many definitions have been placed on child abuse by various organizations over the years. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines child abuse and child maltreatment as “physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States defines it as “words or overt actions that cause harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child, and acts of neglect; the failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional, or education needs or to protect a child from harm or potential harm.” The U.S. federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act defines it as at minimum, “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse of exploitation, and/or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” All states within our nation have their own definitions of what constitutes child abuse as well, yet they do conform with the federal definition.

Child abuse and neglect have a most devastating and long lasting effect on youth, and residual effect into adulthood. This is most especially true for those children who come from a dysfunctional family, such as that where alcoholism or other chemical dependent persons is present. Even with many years of counseling therapy many individuals never overcome the harm that has been done to them.

Most states within our nation recognize four main types of abuse: physical abuse, emotional/mental abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Physical abuse may be generally defined as any non-accidental physical injury to a child; that may include burning, kicking, biting, or striking a child. In some states this also includes threatening a child with harm or creating a situation where harm to a child is likely as part of their definitions of physical abuse.

Emotional/mental abuse may include injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of a child based on observable change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition. Sexual abuse includes acts performed against the child of a sexual nature, to include sexual incest, rape, and other acts; also to generally include sexual exploitation, sex trafficking, and child pornography. Neglect, another form of child abuse, is defined by the failure to provide a child with food, shelter, clothing, medical care, safety, and the supervision necessary to prevent harm.

In my work with thousands of persons with mental illness, substance abuse disorders, and with intellectual functioning disorders over the years; it was most rare indeed to find a person that had not been subject to abuse as a child; the young teen-age girl who was impregnated by her own father, the woman who as a child was forced to perform sexual acts on male family members, the man whom as a child had been raped by his uncles, the woman whom as a child was chained to a table when her parents left the home; but a few instances out of many other such acts that I most assuredly do not wish to remember; acts so plentiful that I have difficulty writing about in this article.

It is incumbent on all of us to report suspected or actual abuse of a child in our state; by calling 911 or the Department of Health and Human Services. We all have the responsibility of insuring our youth are kept safe from abuse and neglect. Until Next Time, Stay Healthy my Friends!