Child abuse can go unreported for a long time because it takes a while before people in the community notice it. Perhaps the abuse doesn't get noticed until a doctor, dentist, teacher, therapist or someone else notices the tell-tale signs of bruises and other unexplainable injuries on the child's body.
After the abuse is discovered, however, what's your next step? What can community members do to protect an abused child who doesn't belong to them?
Your first step is to recognize the child abuse
Children make conscious choices just like adults. The difference is that they lack perspective. The love of their parents will be so unconditional, that they may try to protect their abusive parents and hide the marks of the abuse on their bodies. This is why it's so important for community members to keep an eye out for the signs of abuse.
Here are the signs of child abuse to watch for:
- Cuts, bruises and burns that appear regularly and without explanation.
- Broken bones and internal injuries that seem out of place.
- Extreme hunger or thirst.
- Strange stories that try to cover up how the injuries happened.
- A lack of personal hygiene.
- Too much knowledge about sex for a young age.
Your next step is to report the abuse
It's important not to jump to conclusions. It's normal for adventurous children to get scrapes and bruises. That said, it's also better to be safe than sorry. You can trust that professional investigators will look into suspected child abuse and determine what's really going on. Child abuse investigators know how to ascertain whether the child's condition is normal, or whether abuse is happening.
Your job is simply to report the abuse. All that's required is a quick search on Google for the search terms "Childhelp" or "Child Abuse Hotline." This will get you the contact information you need to tell the appropriate authorities so they can begin their investigations. If the child opens up to you about the abuse, be sure to take notes on what the child says and give this information to investigators.
What's a child advocacy center?
A child advocacy center or CAC can help an abused child get transferred to the care of a non-abusing family member or to a government-sponsored center that will care for the child. CACs are also helpful if police and other investigators don't take sufficient action to put a stop to the child abuse. CAC representatives will gather evidence, conduct interviews, offer medical care and take photos which can help prosecutors prove the child abuse in court.
If you know an abused child, there are specific legal steps you can take to safeguard the child and put an immediate stop to the abusive conditions. For the safety of the child, however, it's important that you act on your suspicions immediately.