From the national view, approximately 185,000 kids were physically or sexually abused in 2014. That is an enormous number of kids. The Child Advocacy Center of North Carolina reports 7,706 cases in 2014. It is easy to think that these kids are somewhere else, but Haywood County has been in the top five of North Carolina’s counties for the past 25 years in abuse reports. KARE, Haywood County’s Child Advocacy Center, received more than 200 reports in the same time period. More than 98 percent of those Haywood County children knew their offender.
Numbers tell a story and are important to frame the expansiveness of child abuse. However, when you listen to a child tell you they are being hurt by someone they know and probably love, or when an elementary school child explains about a “secret game” they are made to play, the numbers become unimportant. Taking care of that child becomes paramount.
We are fortunate in WNC to have people and organizations dedicated to the physical and emotional healing of these children and the prosecution of those at fault. But how do we as a community start to make a change in lives of kids? Each person 18 years or older is a mandated reporter in North Carolina. That means that if you have a reasonable suspicion that abuse or maltreatment is taking place, you are obligated to report it. It does not mean you have to know for sure. Also, it does not mean you have to investigate. Just report it.
I know the next question. “But what if it isn’t true?” And to that I say what if it is true? What if the child will go home to the abuser tonight? Your report can absolutely change a child’s life. Leave the investigation to those that are trained to do so. Ending the abuse should be your goal.
Let’s get on the front side of it. Talking to each other and demanding of our society that abuse is not acceptable are key to ending child abuse. And an even better way is to model behavior that is acceptable for our children. Abuse is often generational; learned behaviors from our parents. While it is not guaranteed that a child of an abuser will become an abuser, it is more likely. And if you think kids don’t learn behaviors from their parents, next time you are in a restaurant just watch the 3-year-old at the table next to you taking selfies with a cell phone.
Talk to your kids and the kids you know. Teach them what an unsafe touch is. Finding the language to speak to kids about unsafe touches doesn’t have to be scary or difficult. Any touch that hurts, makes you uncomfortable or gives you a “funny tummy” feeling is unsafe. Teach kids that their private areas are “between your knees and your nose where your bathing suit goes.” Teach kids that if they are being hurt or touched unsafely to follow these three rules: “Say No, Get Away and Tell a Trusted Adult.” Teach them again and again, even when they roll their eyes. Make it a conversation they can bring to you if they need.
In any room of people it is likely there are survivors of child abuse. And it is possible that there are offenders as well. So I ask you to think about child abuse and help build a community that prevents abuse when it can and a community that responds, with every resource available, to abuse when it must.