Stop the silence: Preventing child abuse is everyone’s responsibility
Twenty-three were four-years-old. Thirty were 14-years-old. Twenty-two were six-years- old. Twenty-one were 10-years-old and all are children that were reported victims of child abuse that occurred in our community. These are some of the 285 abuse allegations from Cheshire County referred for child forensic interviews at The Monadnock Region Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in 2017 and 2018. Nearly a third of them were children age seven or younger.
The Granite State Children’s Alliance operates four CACs in New Hampshire which coordinate the forensic interviews of child victims in a child-friendly environment that involve law enforcement, child protective services and victim advocates so that a unified and minimally intrusive investigation into their reported abuse can take place. CACs bring together professionals and agencies as a multidisciplinary team to create a child-focused approach to child abuse cases.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a good time to remind everyone not only of their moral duty, but also that every adult in New Hampshire has a legal responsibility to report child abuse. A recent study of New Hampshire residents found only 61 percent of adults know they are legally required to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the state’s Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). The Granite State Children’s Alliance offers various educational programs and resources to teach adults about recognizing the signs of abuse and neglect, and also provides resources for helping families and children. Certain signs are visible, such as unexplained bruises, or cuts and burns. Other signs can include changes in behavior, eating, sleeping, school performance, lack of personal care, or possibly engaging in risk-taking behaviors and inappropriate sexual behaviors. Other behaviors can include reluctance to staying at home, self-harm and aggression towards others.
In 2017 and 2018 the Monadnock CAC interviewed children for reports of kidnapping, indecent exposure, second degree assault and child pornography. Child victims of these crimes often feel helpless, embarrassed, or scared to come forward about their abuse. While we should encourage them to speak out, adults have to help children find their voice and their courage.
Knowing is half the battle. Even if we as adults recognize what abuse is, some write it off as bad parenting, or they are simply uncomfortable bringing it up. However, when our children are being harmed, we need to put them first; no matter what. Everyone is responsible for preventing this nationwide health crisis, as national statistics indicate only one in 10 cases of child sexual abuse is reported. When we fail to report suspected abuse, our children, our communities and our country suffer the consequences. When it is not addressed, child abuse and neglect can negatively affect the victims’ physical and mental health, academic achievements and negatively influence the relationships they form as children, as adults and possibly negatively affect them and their families when they become parents themselves.
Children are the future of New Hampshire and they deserve a fair chance to flourish. It’s up to all adults to exercise their legal and moral responsibility to stop the silence and end child abuse.
Currently, various child abuse and awareness materials are being distributed throughout Cheshire County schools, libraries and businesses. Public service announcements are being prepared and disseminated in order to educate Cheshire County residents about this issue.
To learn more about the signs of child abuse, request materials or workshops, visit www.cac-nh.org. If you need more information about the services offered at the Monadnock Region Child Advocacy Center, you can contact them at 603-352-0413.
Kyle Heslin and Olivia Roberts are students at Keene State College.